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Statistical hypothesis testing in intraspecific phylogeography: nested clade phylogeographical analysis vs. approximate Bayesian computation


Alan R. Templeton, Fax: 1 314 935 4432; E-mail,


Nested clade phylogeographical analysis (NCPA) and approximate Bayesian computation (ABC) have been used to test phylogeographical hypotheses. Multilocus NCPA tests null hypotheses, whereas ABC discriminates among a finite set of alternatives. The interpretive criteria of NCPA are explicit and allow complex models to be built from simple components. The interpretive criteria of ABC are ad hoc and require the specification of a complete phylogeographical model. The conclusions from ABC are often influenced by implicit assumptions arising from the many parameters needed to specify a complex model. These complex models confound many assumptions so that biological interpretations are difficult. Sampling error is accounted for in NCPA, but ABC ignores important sources of sampling error that creates pseudo-statistical power. NCPA generates the full sampling distribution of its statistics, but ABC only yields local probabilities, which in turn make it impossible to distinguish between a good fitting model, a non-informative model, and an over-determined model. Both NCPA and ABC use approximations, but convergences of the approximations used in NCPA are well defined whereas those in ABC are not. NCPA can analyse a large number of locations, but ABC cannot. Finally, the dimensionality of tested hypothesis is known in NCPA, but not for ABC. As a consequence, the ‘probabilities’ generated by ABC are not true probabilities and are statistically non-interpretable. Accordingly, ABC should not be used for hypothesis testing, but simulation approaches are valuable when used in conjunction with NCPA or other methods that do not rely on highly parameterized models.