The mean and variance of phylogenetic diversity under rarefaction



  1. Phylogenetic diversity (PD) depends on sampling depth, which complicates the comparison of PD between samples of different depth. One approach to dealing with differing sample depth for a given diversity statistic is to rarefy, which means to take a random subset of a given size of the original sample. Exact analytical formulae for the mean and variance of species richness under rarefaction have existed for some time, but no such solution exists for PD.
  2. We have derived exact formulae for the mean and variance of PD under rarefaction. We confirm that these formulae are correct by comparing exact solution mean and variance to that calculated by repeated random (Monte Carlo) subsampling of a data set of stem counts of woody shrubs of Toohey Forest, Queensland, Australia. We also demonstrate the application of the method using two examples: identifying hot spots of mammalian diversity in Australasian ecoregions and characterizing the human vaginal microbiome.
  3. There is a very high degree of correspondence between the analytical and random subsampling methods for calculating mean and variance of PD under rarefaction, although the Monte Carlo method requires a large number of random draws to converge on the exact solution for the variance.
  4. Rarefaction of mammalian PD of ecoregions in Australasia to a common standard of 25 species reveals very different rank orderings of ecoregions, indicating quite different hot spots of diversity than those obtained for unrarefied PD. The application of these methods to the vaginal microbiome shows that a classical score used to quantify bacterial vaginosis is correlated with the shape of the rarefaction curve.
  5. The analytical formulae for the mean and variance of PD under rarefaction are both exact and more efficient than repeated subsampling. Rarefaction of PD allows for many applications where comparisons of samples of different depth are required.