Total Evidence, Average Consensus and Matrix Representation with Parsimony: What a Difference Distances Make
Resolution of the total evidence (i.e., character congruence) versus consensus (i.e., taxonomic congruence) debate has been impeded by (1) a failure to employ validation methods consistently across both tree-building and consensus analyses, (2) the incomparability of methods for constructing as opposed to those for combining trees, and (3) indifference to aspects of trees other than their topologies. We demonstrate a uniform, distance-based approach which allows for comparability among the results of character- and taxonomic-congruence studies, whether or not an identical suite of taxa has been included in all contributing data sets. Our results indicate that total-evidence and consensus trees differ little in topology if branch lengths are taken into account when combining two or more trees. In addition, when character-state data are converted to distances, our method permits their combination with information produced by techniques which generate distances directly. Moreover, treating all data sets or trees as distance matrices avoids the problem that different numbers of characters in contributing studies may confound the conclusions of a total-evidence or consensus analysis. Our protocol is illustrated with an example involving bats, in which the three component studies based on serology, DNA hybridization, and anatomy imply distinct phylogenies. However, the total-evidence and consensus trees support a fourth, somewhat different, topology resolved at all but one node and which conforms closely to the currently accepted higher category classification of Chiroptera.