Inferring demographic parameters in bacterial genomic data using Bayesian and hybrid phylogenetic methods

Sebastian Duchene*, David A. Duchene, Jemma L. Geoghegan, Zoe A. Dyson, Jane Hawkey, Kathryn E. Holt

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    13 Citations (Scopus)
    21 Downloads (Pure)


    Recent developments in sequencing technologies make it possible to obtain genome sequences from a large number of isolates in a very short time. Bayesian phylogenetic approaches can take advantage of these data by simultaneously inferring the phylogenetic tree, evolutionary timescale, and demographic parameters (such as population growth rates), while naturally integrating uncertainty in all parameters. Despite their desirable properties, Bayesian approaches can be computationally intensive, hindering their use for outbreak investigations involving genome data for a large numbers of pathogen isolates. An alternative to using full Bayesian inference is to use a hybrid approach, where the phylogenetic tree and evolutionary timescale are estimated first using maximum likelihood. Under this hybrid approach, demographic parameters are inferred from estimated trees instead of the sequence data, using maximum likelihood, Bayesian inference, or approximate Bayesian computation. This can vastly reduce the computational burden, but has the disadvantage of ignoring the uncertainty in the phylogenetic tree and evolutionary timescale.

    We compared the performance of a fully Bayesian and a hybrid method by analysing six whole-genome SNP data sets from a range of bacteria and simulations. The estimates from the two methods were very similar, suggesting that the hybrid method is a valid alternative for very large datasets. However, we also found that congruence between these methods is contingent on the presence of strong temporal structure in the data (i.e. clocklike behaviour), which is typically verified using a date-randomisation test in a Bayesian framework. To reduce the computational burden of this Bayesian test we implemented a date-randomisation test using a rapid maximum likelihood method, which has similar performance to its Bayesian counterpart.

    Hybrid approaches can produce reliable inferences of evolutionary timescales and phylodynamic parameters in a fraction of the time required for fully Bayesian analyses. As such, they are a valuable alternative in outbreak studies involving a large number of isolates.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number95
    Pages (from-to)1-11
    Number of pages11
    JournalBMC Evolutionary Biology
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 19 Jun 2018

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2018. 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.


    • Bayesian phylogenetics
    • phylodynamics
    • molecular clock
    • bacterial evolution


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