A stochastic Farris transform for genetic data under the multispecies coalescent with applications to data requirements

Gautam Dasarathy, Elchanan Mossel, Robert Nowak, Sebastien Roch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Species tree estimation faces many significant hurdles. Chief among them is that the trees describing the ancestral lineages of each individual gene—the gene trees—often differ from the species tree. The multispecies coalescent is commonly used to model this gene tree discordance, at least when it is believed to arise from incomplete lineage sorting, a population-genetic effect. Another significant challenge in this area is that molecular sequences associated to each gene typically provide limited information about the gene trees themselves. While the modeling of sequence evolution by single-site substitutions is well-studied, few species tree reconstruction methods with theoretical guarantees actually address this latter issue. Instead, a standard—but unsatisfactory—assumption is that gene trees are perfectly reconstructed before being fed into a so-called summary method. Hence much remains to be done in the development of inference methodologies that rigorously account for gene tree estimation error—or completely avoid gene tree estimation in the first place. In previous work, a data requirement trade-off was derived between the number of loci m needed for an accurate reconstruction and the length of the locus sequences k. It was shown that to reconstruct an internal branch of length f, one needs m to be of the order of 1/[f2k]. That previous result was obtained under the restrictive assumption that mutation rates as well as population sizes are constant across the species phylogeny. Here we further generalize this result beyond this assumption. Our main contribution is a novel reduction to the molecular clock case under the multispecies coalescent, which we refer to as a stochastic Farris transform. As a corollary, we also obtain a new identifiability result of independent interest: for any species tree with n≥ 3 species, the rooted topology of the species tree can be identified from the distribution of its unrooted weighted gene trees even in the absence of a molecular clock.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number36
JournalJournal Of Mathematical Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • Coalescent
  • Data requirement
  • Distance methods
  • Gene tree/species tree
  • Phylogenetic reconstruction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Applied Mathematics


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