Does Gene Tree Discordance Explain the Mismatch between Macroevolutionary Models and Empirical Patterns of Tree Shape and Branching Times?
Classic null models for speciation and extinction give rise to phylogenies that differ in distribution from empirical phylogenies. In particular, empirical phylogenies are less balanced and have branching times closer to the root compared to phylogenies predicted by common null models. This difference might be due to null models of the speciation and extinction process being too simplistic, or due to the empirical datasets not being representative of random phylogenies. A third possibility arises because phylogenetic reconstruction methods often infer gene trees rather than species trees, producing an incongruity between models that predict species tree patterns and empirical analyses that consider gene trees. We investigate the extent to which the difference between gene trees and species trees under a combined birth-death and multispecies coalescent model can explain the difference in empirical trees and birth-death species trees. We simulate gene trees embedded in simulated species trees and investigate their difference with respect to tree balance and branching times. We observe that the gene trees are less balanced and typically have branching times closer to the root than the species trees. Empirical trees from TreeBase are also less balanced than our simulated species trees, and model gene trees can explain an imbalance increase of up to 8% compared to species trees. However, we see a much larger imbalance increase in empirical trees, about 100%, meaning that additional features must also be causing imbalance in empirical trees. This simulation study highlights the necessity of revisiting the assumptions made in phylogenetic analyses, as these assumptions, such as equating the gene tree with the species tree, might lead to a biased conclusion.