Original paper

Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 113-127

First online:

Modelling extinction risk in multispecies data sets: phylogenetically independent contrasts versus decision trees

  • J. BielbyAffiliated withInstitute of Zoology, The Zoological Society of LondonDepartment of Biological Sciences, Imperial College London Email author 
  • , M. CardilloAffiliated withCentre for Macroevolution and Macroecology, Research School of Biology, Australian National University
  • , N. CooperAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, Imperial College London
  • , A. PurvisAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, Imperial College London

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Many recent studies of extinction risk have attempted to determine what differences exist between threatened and non-threatened species. One potential problem in such studies is that species-level data may contain phylogenetic non-independence. However, the use of phylogenetic comparative methods (PCM) to account for non-independence remains controversial, and some recent studies of extinction have recommended other methods that do not account for phylogenetic non-independence, notably decision trees (DTs). Here we perform a systematic comparison of techniques, comparing the performance of PCM regression models with corresponding non-phylogenetic regressions and DTs over different clades and response variables. We found that predictions were broadly consistent among techniques, but that predictive precision varied across techniques with PCM regression and DTs performing best. Additionally, despite their inability to account for phylogenetic non-independence, DTs were useful in highlighting interaction terms for inclusion in the PCM regression models. We discuss the implications of these findings for future comparative studies of extinction risk.


Comparative analyses Conservation Decision trees Extinction risk Non-independent data Phylogenetic comparative methods