Monte Carlo Strategies for Selecting Parameter Values in Simulation Experiments

Syst Biol. 2015 Sep;64(5):741-51. doi: 10.1093/sysbio/syv030. Epub 2015 May 25.


Simulation experiments are used widely throughout evolutionary biology and bioinformatics to compare models, promote methods, and test hypotheses. The biggest practical constraint on simulation experiments is the computational demand, particularly as the number of parameters increases. Given the extraordinary success of Monte Carlo methods for conducting inference in phylogenetics, and indeed throughout the sciences, we investigate ways in which Monte Carlo framework can be used to carry out simulation experiments more efficiently. The key idea is to sample parameter values for the experiments, rather than iterate through them exhaustively. Exhaustive analyses become completely infeasible when the number of parameters gets too large, whereas sampled approaches can fare better in higher dimensions. We illustrate the framework with applications to phylogenetics and genetic archaeology.

Keywords: Importance sampling; Markov chain Monte Carlo; phylogenetic analysis; plant domestication; simulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Classification / methods*
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Monte Carlo Method*
  • Phylogeny*