### Maximum likelihood inference of small trees in the presence of long branches.

*Ontology highlight*

**ABSTRACT**: The statistical basis of maximum likelihood (ML), its robustness, and the fact that it appears to suffer less from biases lead to it being one of the most popular methods for tree reconstruction. Despite its popularity, very few analytical solutions for ML exist, so biases suffered by ML are not well understood. One possible bias is long branch attraction (LBA), a regularly cited term generally used to describe a propensity for long branches to be joined together in estimated trees. Although initially mentioned in connection with inconsistency of parsimony, LBA has been claimed to affect all major phylogenetic reconstruction methods, including ML. Despite the widespread use of this term in the literature, exactly what LBA is and what may be causing it is poorly understood, even for simple evolutionary models and small model trees. Studies looking at LBA have focused on the effect of two long branches on tree reconstruction. However, to understand the effect of two long branches it is also important to understand the effect of just one long branch. If ML struggles to reconstruct one long branch, then this may have an impact on LBA. In this study, we look at the effect of one long branch on three-taxon tree reconstruction. We show that, counterintuitively, long branches are preferentially placed at the tips of the tree. This can be understood through the use of analytical solutions to the ML equation and distance matrix methods. We go on to look at the placement of two long branches on four-taxon trees, showing that there is no attraction between long branches, but that for extreme branch lengths long branches are joined together disproportionally often. These results illustrate that even small model trees are still interesting to help understand how ML phylogenetic reconstruction works, and that LBA is a complicated phenomenon that deserves further study.

**PROVIDER: **S-EPMC6371681 | BioStudies |

**REPOSITORIES: ** biostudies

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