Test for simultaneous divergence using approximate Bayesian computation

Michael J. Hickerson, Eli A. Stahl, H. A. Lessios

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

151 Scopus citations


Comparative phylogeographic studies often reveal disparate levels of sequence divergence between lineages spanning a common geographic barrier, leading to the conclusion that isolation was nonsynchronous. However, only rarely do researchers account for the expected variance associated with ancestral coalescence and among-taxon variation in demographic history. We introduce a flexible approximate Bayesian computational (ABC) framework that can test for simultaneous divergence (TSD) using a hierarchical model that incorporates idiosyncratic differences in demographic history across taxon pairs. The method is tested across a range of conditions and is shown to be accurate even with single-locus mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) data. We apply this method to a landmark dataset of putative simultaneous vicariance, eight geminate echinoid taxon pairs thought to have been split by the Isthmus of Panama 3.1 million years ago. The ABC posterior estimates are not consistent with a history of simultaneous vicariance given these data. Subsequent ABC estimates under a constrained model that assumes two divergence times across the eight taxon pairs suggests simultaneous divergence 3.1 million years ago in seven of the taxon pairs and a more recent divergence in the remaining taxon pair. These ABC estimates on the simultaneous divergence of the seven taxon pairs correspond to a DNA substitution rate of approximately 1.59% per lineage per million years at the mtDNA cytochrome oxidase I gene. This ABC framework can easily be modified to analyze single taxon-pair datasets and/or be expanded to include multiple loci, migration, recombination, and other idiosyncratic demographic histories. The flexible aspect of ABC and its built-in evaluation of estimator bias and statistical power has the potential to greatly enhance statistical rigor in phylogeographic studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2435-2453
Number of pages19
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Approximate Bayesian computation
  • Coalescent
  • Comparative phylogeography
  • Echinoid
  • Hierarchical model
  • Meta-analysis
  • Vicariance


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