Using allele frequencies and geographic subdivision to reconstruct gene trees within a species: Molecular variance parsimony

L. Excoffier, P. E. Smouse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

352 Scopus citations


We formalize the use of allele frequency and geographic information for the construction of gene trees at the intraspecific level and extend the concept of evolutionary parsimony to molecular variance parsimony. The central principle is to consider a particular gene tree as a variable to be optimized in the estimation of a given population statistic. We propose three population statistics that are related to variance components and that are explicit functions of phylogenetic information. The methodology is applied in the context of minimum spanning trees (MSTs) and human mitochondrial DNA restriction data, but could be extended to accommodate other tree-making procedures, as well as other data types. We pursue optimal trees by heuristic optimization over a search space of more than 1.29 billion MSTs. This very large number of equally parsimonious trees underlines the lack of resolution of conventional parsimony procedures. This lack of resolution is highlighted by the observation that equally parsimonious trees yield very different estimates of population genetic diversity and genetic structure, as shown by null distributions of the population statistics, obtained by evaluation of 10,000 random MSTs. We propose a non-parametric test for the similarity between any two trees, based on the distribution of a weighted coevolutionary correlation. The ability to test for tree relatedness leads to the definition of a class of solutions instead of a single solution. Members of the class share virtually all of the critical internal structure of the tree but differ in the placement of singleton branch tips.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)343-359
Number of pages17
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1994
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics

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