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This article is part of the supplement: Selected articles from the 7th International Symposium on Bioinformatics Research and Applications (ISBRA'11)

Open Access Proceedings

Consensus properties for the deep coalescence problem and their application for scalable tree search

Harris T Lin1, J Gordon Burleigh2 and Oliver Eulenstein1*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Computer Science, Iowa State University, Ames, IA, USA

2 National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, Durham, NC, USA; University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Bioinformatics 2012, 13(Suppl 10):S12  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-13-S10-S12

Published: 25 June 2012



To infer a species phylogeny from unlinked genes, phylogenetic inference methods must confront the biological processes that create incongruence between gene trees and the species phylogeny. Intra-specific gene variation in ancestral species can result in deep coalescence, also known as incomplete lineage sorting, which creates incongruence between gene trees and the species tree. One approach to account for deep coalescence in phylogenetic analyses is the deep coalescence problem, which takes a collection of gene trees and seeks the species tree that implies the fewest deep coalescence events. Although this approach is promising for phylogenetics, the consensus properties of this problem are mostly unknown and analyses of large data sets may be computationally prohibitive.


We prove that the deep coalescence consensus tree problem satisfies the highly desirable Pareto property for clusters (clades). That is, in all instances, each cluster that is present in all of the input gene trees, called a consensus cluster, will also be found in every optimal solution. Moreover, we introduce a new divide and conquer method for the deep coalescence problem based on the Pareto property. This method refines the strict consensus of the input gene trees, thereby, in practice, often greatly reducing the complexity of the tree search and guaranteeing that the estimated species tree will satisfy the Pareto property.


Analyses of both simulated and empirical data sets demonstrate that the divide and conquer method can greatly improve upon the speed of heuristics that do not consider the Pareto consensus property, while also guaranteeing that the proposed solution fulfills the Pareto property. The divide and conquer method extends the utility of the deep coalescence problem to data sets with enormous numbers of taxa.