Currently available phylogenetic methods for studying the rate of evolution in a continuously valued character assume that the rate is constant throughout the tree or that it changes along specific branches according to an a priori hypothesis of rate variation provided by the user. Herein, we describe a new method for studying evolutionary rate variation in continuously valued characters given an estimate of the phylogenetic history of the species in our study. According to this method, we propose no specific prior hypothesis for how the variation in evolutionary rate is structured throughout the history of the species in our study. Instead, we use a Bayesian Markov Chain Monte Carlo approach to estimate evolutionary rates and the shift point between rates on the tree. We do this by simultaneously sampling rates and shift points in proportion to their posterior probability, and then collapsing the posterior sample into an estimate of the parameters of interest. We use simulation to show that the method is quite successful at identifying the phylogenetic position of a shift in the rate of evolution, and that estimated rates are asymptotically unbiased. We also provide an empirical example of the method using data for Anolis lizards.

[This article was published online on September 20, 2011. An error in a co-author's name was subsequently identified. This notice is included in the online and print versions to indicate that both have been corrected September 21, 2011.]