Estimating the effective sample size of tree topologies from Bayesian phylogenetic analyses

Robert Lanfear, Xia Hua, Dan L. Warren

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    47 Citations (Scopus)
    11 Downloads (Pure)


    Bayesian phylogenetic analyses estimate posterior distributions of phylogenetic tree topologies and other parameters using Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) methods. Before making inferences from these distributions, it is important to assess their adequacy. To this end, the effective sample size (ESS) estimates how many truly independent samples of a given parameter the output of the MCMC represents. The ESS of a parameter is frequently much lower than the number of samples taken from the MCMC because sequential samples from the chain can be non-independent due to autocorrelation. Typically, phylogeneticists use a rule of thumb that the ESS of all parameters should be greater than 200. However, we have no method to calculate an ESS of tree topology samples, despite the fact that the tree topology is often the parameter of primary interest and is almost always central to the estimation of other parameters. That is, we lack a method to determine whether we have adequately sampled one of the most important parameters in our analyses. In this study, we address this problem by developing methods to estimate the ESS for tree topologies. We combine these methods with two new diagnostic plots for assessing posterior samples of tree topologies, and compare their performance on simulated and empirical data sets. Combined, the methods we present provide new ways to assess the mixing and convergence of phylogenetic tree topologies in Bayesian MCMC analyses.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2319-2332
    Number of pages14
    JournalGenome Biology and Evolution
    Issue number8
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2016

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2016. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • tree distance
    • phylogenetics
    • topology
    • MCMC
    • ESS
    • phylogenomics
    • Phylogenetics
    • Tree distance
    • Topology
    • Phylogenomics


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