Molecular phylogenetic inference is inherently dependent on choices in both methodology and data. Many insightful studies have shown how choices in methodology, such as the model of sequence evolution or optimality criterion used, can strongly influence inference. In contrast, much less is known about the impact of choices in the properties of the data, typically genes, on phylogenetic inference. We investigated the relationships between 52 gene properties (24 sequence-based, 19 function-based, and 9 tree-based) with each other and with three measures of phylogenetic signal in two assembled data sets of 2,832 yeast and 2,002 mammalian genes. We found that most gene properties, such as evolutionary rate (measured through the percent average of pairwise identity across taxa) and total tree length, were highly correlated with each other. Similarly, several gene properties, such as gene alignment length, Guanine-Cytosine content, and the proportion of tree distance on internal branches divided by relative composition variability (treeness/RCV), were strongly correlated with phylogenetic signal. Analysis of partial correlations between gene properties and phylogenetic signal in which gene evolutionary rate and alignment length were simultaneously controlled, showed similar patterns of correlations, albeit weaker in strength. Examination of the relative importance of each gene property on phylogenetic signal identified gene alignment length, alongside with number of parsimony-informative sites and variable sites, as the most important predictors. Interestingly, the subsets of gene properties that optimally predicted phylogenetic signal differed considerably across our three phylogenetic measures and two data sets; however, gene alignment length and RCV were consistently included as predictors of all three phylogenetic measures in both yeasts and mammals. These results suggest that a handful of sequence-based gene properties are reliable predictors of phylogenetic signal and could be useful in guiding the choice of phylogenetic markers.
© The Author 2016. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution.