Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 170-179

First online:

Evaluation of the maximum likelihood estimate of the evolutionary tree topologies from DNA sequence data, and the branching order in hominoidea

  • Hirohisa KishinoAffiliated withThe Institute of Statistical Mathematics
  • , Masami HasegawaAffiliated withThe Institute of Statistical Mathematics

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A maximum likelihood method for inferring evolutionary trees from DNA sequence data was developed by Felsenstein (1981). In evaluating the extent to which the maximum likelihood tree is a significantly better representation of the true tree, it is important to estimate the variance of the difference between log likelihood of different tree topologies. Bootstrap resampling can be used for this purpose (Hasegawa et al. 1988; Hasegawa and Kishino 1989), but it imposes a great computation burden. To overcome this difficulty, we developed a new method for estimating the variance by expressing it explicitly.

The method was applied to DNA sequence data from primates in order to evaluate the maximum likelihood branching order among Hominoidea. It was shown that, although the orangutan is convincingly placed as an outgroup of a human and African apes clade, the branching order among human, chimpanzee, and gorilla cannot be determined confidently from the DNA sequence data presently available when the evolutionary rate constancy is not assumed.

Key words

Variance of log likelihood Confidence limits Hominoid tree