Can Weighting Improve Bushy Trees? Models of Cytochrome b Evolution and the Molecular Systematics of Pipits and Wagtails (Aves: Motacillidae) Academic Article uri icon


  • Among-site rate variation (alpha) and transition bias (kappa) have been shown, most often as independent parameters, to be important dynamics in DNA evolution. Accounting for these dynamics should result in better estimates of phylogenetic relationships. To test this idea, we simultaneously estimated overall (averaged over all codon positions) and codon-specific values of alpha and kappa, using maximum likelihood analyses of cytochrome b data from all genera of pipits and wagtails (Aves: Motacillidae), and six outgroup species, using initial trees generated with default values. Estimates of alpha and kappa were robust to initial tree topology and suggested substantial among-site rate variation even within codon classes; alpha was lowest (large among-site rate variation) at second-codon and highest (low among-site rate variation) at third-codon positions. When overall values were applied, there were shifts in tree topology and dramatic and statistically significant improvements in log-likelihood scores of trees compared with the scores from application of default values. Applying codon-specific values resulted in yet another highly significant increase in likelihood. However, although incorporating substitution dynamics into maximum likelihood, maximum parsimony, and neighbor-joining analyses resulted in increases in congruence among trees, there were only minor improvements in phylogenetic signal, and none of the successive approximations tree topologies were statistically distinguishable from one another by the data. We suggest that the bushlike nature of many higher-level phylogenies in birds makes estimating the dynamics of DNA evolution less sensitive to tree topology but also less susceptible to improvement via weighting.

altmetric score

  • 3

author list (cited authors)

  • Voelker, G., & Edwards, S. V.

citation count

  • 40

publication date

  • December 1998