Estimating a binary character's effect on speciation and extinction

Syst Biol. 2007 Oct;56(5):701-10. doi: 10.1080/10635150701607033.


Determining whether speciation and extinction rates depend on the state of a particular character has been of long-standing interest to evolutionary biologists. To assess the effect of a character on diversification rates using likelihood methods requires that we be able to calculate the probability that a group of extant species would have evolved as observed, given a particular model of the character's effect. Here we describe how to calculate this probability for a phylogenetic tree and a two-state (binary) character under a simple model of evolution (the "BiSSE" model, binary-state speciation and extinction). The model involves six parameters, specifying two speciation rates (rate when the lineage is in state 0; rate when in state 1), two extinction rates (when in state 0; when in state 1), and two rates of character state change (from 0 to 1, and from 1 to 0). Using these probability calculations, we can do maximum likelihood inference to estimate the model's parameters and perform hypothesis tests (e.g., is the rate of speciation elevated for one character state over the other?). We demonstrate the application of the method using simulated data with known parameter values.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Computer Simulation
  • Extinction, Biological*
  • Genetic Speciation*
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Models, Biological*
  • Phylogeny