Robustness of compound Dirichlet priors for Bayesian inference of branch lengths.Syst Biol. 2012 Oct; 61(5):779-84.SB
We modified the phylogenetic program MrBayes 3.1.2 to incorporate the compound Dirichlet priors for branch lengths proposed recently by Rannala, Zhu, and Yang (2012. Tail paradox, partial identifiability and influential priors in Bayesian branch length inference. Mol. Biol. Evol. 29:325-335.) as a solution to the problem of branch-length overestimation in Bayesian phylogenetic inference. The compound Dirichlet prior specifies a fairly diffuse prior on the tree length (the sum of branch lengths) and uses a Dirichlet distribution to partition the tree length into branch lengths. Six problematic data sets originally analyzed by Brown, Hedtke, Lemmon, and Lemmon (2010. When trees grow too long: investigating the causes of highly inaccurate Bayesian branch-length estimates. Syst. Biol. 59:145-161) are reanalyzed using the modified version of MrBayes to investigate properties of Bayesian branch-length estimation using the new priors. While the default exponential priors for branch lengths produced extremely long trees, the compound Dirichlet priors produced posterior estimates that are much closer to the maximum likelihood estimates. Furthermore, the posterior tree lengths were quite robust to changes in the parameter values in the compound Dirichlet priors, for example, when the prior mean of tree length changed over several orders of magnitude. Our results suggest that the compound Dirichlet priors may be useful for correcting branch-length overestimation in phylogenetic analyses of empirical data sets.