Phylogenetic comparative methods complement discriminant function analysis in ecomorphology

W. Andrew Barr, Robert S. Scott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


In ecomorphology, Discriminant Function Analysis (DFA) has been used as evidence for the presence of functional links between morphometric variables and ecological categories. Here we conduct simulations of characters containing phylogenetic signal to explore the performance of DFA under a variety of conditions. Characters were simulated using a phylogeny of extant antelope species from known habitats. Characters were modeled with no biomechanical relationship to the habitat category; the only sources of variation were body mass, phylogenetic signal, or random "noise." DFA on the discriminability of habitat categories was performed using subsets of the simulated characters, and Phylogenetic Generalized Least Squares (PGLS) was performed for each character. Analyses were repeated with randomized habitat assignments. When simulated characters lacked phylogenetic signal and/or habitat assignments were random, <5.6% of DFAs and <8.26% of PGLS analyses were significant. When characters contained phylogenetic signal and actual habitats were used, 33.27 to 45.07% of DFAs and <13.09% of PGLS analyses were significant. False Discovery Rate (FDR) corrections for multiple PGLS analyses reduced the rate of significance to <4.64%. In all cases using actual habitats and characters with phylogenetic signal, correct classification rates of DFAs exceeded random chance. In simulations involving phylogenetic signal in both predictor variables and predicted categories, PGLS with FDR was rarely significant, while DFA often was. In short, DFA offered no indication that differences between categories might be explained by phylogenetic signal, while PGLS did. As such, PGLS provides a valuable tool for testing the functional hypotheses at the heart of ecomorphology. Am J Phys Anthropol 153:663-674, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)663-674
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican journal of physical anthropology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


  • Bovidae
  • PGLS
  • paleoecology
  • paleoenvironments


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