Comparative methods as a statistical fix: the dangers of ignoring an evolutionary model.

Research paper by Rob P RP Freckleton, Natalie N Cooper, Walter W Jetz

Indexed on: 15 Jun '11Published on: 15 Jun '11Published in: The American naturalist


Abstract Comparative methods are widely used in ecology and evolution. The most frequently used comparative methods are based on an explicit evolutionary model. However, recent approaches have been popularized that are without an evolutionary basis or an underlying null model. Here we highlight the limitations of such techniques in comparative analyses by using simulations to compare two commonly used comparative methods with and without evolutionary basis, respectively: generalized least squares (GLS) and phylogenetic eigenvector regression (PVR). We find that GLS methods are more efficient at estimating model parameters and produce lower variance in parameter estimates, lower phylogenetic signal in residuals, and lower Type I error rates than PVR methods. These results can very likely be generalized to eigenvector methods that control for space and both space and phylogeny. We highlight that GLS methods can be adapted in numerous ways and that the variance structure used in these models can be flexibly optimized to each data set.