The Mantel test, based on comparisons of distance matrices, is commonly employed in comparative biology, but its statistical properties in this context are unknown. Here, we evaluate the performance of the Mantel test for two applications in comparative biology: testing for phylogenetic signal, and testing for an evolutionary correlation between two characters. We find that the Mantel test has poor performance compared to alternative methods, including low power and, under some circumstances, inflated type-I error. We identify a remedy for the inflated type-I error of three-way Mantel tests using phylogenetic permutations; however, this test still has considerably lower power than independent contrasts. We recommend that use of the Mantel test should be restricted to cases in which data can only be expressed as pairwise distances among taxa.