Does phylogeny matter? Assessing the impact of phylogenetic information in ecological meta-analysis




Meta-analysis is increasingly used in ecology and evolutionary biology. Yet, in these fields this technique has an important limitation: phylogenetic non-independence exists among taxa, violating the statistical assumptions underlying traditional meta-analytic models. Recently, meta-analytical techniques incorporating phylogenetic information have been developed to address this issue. However, no syntheses have evaluated how often including phylogenetic information changes meta-analytic results. To address this gap, we built phylogenies for and re-analysed 30 published meta-analyses, comparing results for traditional vs. phylogenetic approaches and assessing which characteristics of phylogenies best explained changes in meta-analytic results and relative model fit. Accounting for phylogeny significantly changed estimates of the overall pooled effect size in 47% of datasets for fixed-effects analyses and 7% of datasets for random-effects analyses. Accounting for phylogeny also changed whether those effect sizes were significantly different from zero in 23 and 40% of our datasets (for fixed- and random-effects models, respectively). Across datasets, decreases in pooled effect size magnitudes after incorporating phylogenetic information were associated with larger phylogenies and those with stronger phylogenetic signal. We conclude that incorporating phylogenetic information in ecological meta-analyses is important, and we provide practical recommendations for doing so.