, Volume 20, Issue 6, pp 591-602
Date: 27 Sep 2006

Factors influencing changes in trait correlations across species after using phylogenetic independent contrasts

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Abstract

Comparative interspecific data sets have been analyzed routinely by phylogenetic methods, generally using Felsenstein’s phylogenetic independent contrasts (PIC) method. However, some authors have suggested that it may not be always necessary to incorporate phylogenetic information into statistical analyses of comparative data due to the low influence of shared history on the distribution of␣character states. The main goal of this paper was to undertake a comparison of results from non-phylogenetic Pearson correlation of tip values (TIPs) and phylogenetic independent contrasts analyses (PICs), using 566 correlation coefficients derived from 65 published papers. From each study we collected the following data: taxonomic group, number of species, type of phylogeny, number of polytomies in the phylogenetic tree, if branch length was transformed or not, trait types, the original correlation coefficient between the traits (TIPs) and the correlation coefficient between the traits using the independent contrasts method (PICs). The slope estimated from a regression of PIC correlations on TIP correlations was lower than one, and a paired t-test showed that correlations from PIC are significantly smaller than those obtained by TIP. Thus, PIC analyses tend to decrease the correlation between traits and usually increases the P-value and, thus, favoring the acceptance of the null hypothesis. Multiple factors, including taxonomic group, trait type and use of branch length transformations affected the change in decision regarding the acceptance of the null hypotheses and differences between PIC and TIP results. Due to the variety of factors affecting the differences between results provided by these methods, we suggest that comparative methods should be applied as a conservative approach to cross-species studies. Despite difficulties in quantifying precisely why these factors affect the differences between PIC and TIP, we also suggest that a better evaluation of evolutionary models underlying trait evolution is still necessary in this context and might explain some of the observed patterns.