Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 304–311

Probability distribution of molecular evolutionary trees: A new method of phylogenetic inference

  • Bruce Rannala
  • Ziheng Yang

DOI: 10.1007/BF02338839

Cite this article as:
Rannala, B. & Yang, Z. J Mol Evol (1996) 43: 304. doi:10.1007/BF02338839


A new method is presented for inferring evolutionary trees using nucleotide sequence data. The birth-death process is used as a model of speciation and extinction to specify the prior distribution of phylogenies and branching times. Nucleotide substitution is modeled by a continuous-time Markov process. Parameters of the branching model and the substitution model are estimated by maximum likelihood. The posterior probabilities of different phylogenies are calculated and the phylogeny with the highest posterior probability is chosen as the best estimate of the evolutionary relationship among species. We refer to this as the maximum posterior probability (MAP) tree. The posterior probability provides a natural measure of the reliability of the estimated phylogeny. Two example data sets are analyzed to infer the phylogenetic relationship of human, chimpanzee, gorilla, and orangutan. The best trees estimated by the new method are the same as those from the maximum likelihood analysis of separate topologies, but the posterior probabilities are quite different from the bootstrap proportions. The results of the method are found to be insensitive to changes in the rate parameter of the branching process.

Key words

Maximum likelihoodPhylogenyNucleotide substitutionPosterior probabilityEmpirical Bayes estimationMAP tree

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bruce Rannala
    • 1
  • Ziheng Yang
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of California BerkeleyUSA