Interpreting the Evolutionary Regression: The Interplay Between Observational and Biological Errors in Phylogenetic Comparative Studies
Journal article, 2012

Regressions of biological variables across species are rarely perfect. Usually, there are residual deviations from the estimated model relationship, and such deviations commonly show a pattern of phylogenetic correlations indicating that they have biological causes. We discuss the origins and effects of phylogenetically correlated biological variation in regression studies. In particular, we discuss the interplay of biological deviations with deviations due to observational or measurement errors, which are also important in comparative studies based on estimated species means. We show how bias in estimated evolutionary regressions can arise from several sources, including phylogenetic inertia and either observational or biological error in the predictor variables. We show how all these biases can be estimated and corrected for in the presence of phylogenetic correlations. We present general formulas for incorporating measurement error in linear models with correlated data. We also show how alternative regression models, such as major axis and reduced major axis regression, which are often recommended when there is error in predictor variables, are strongly biased when there is biological variation in any part of the model. We argue that such methods should never be used to estimate evolutionary or allometric regression slopes.




measurement error


within-species variation

major-axis regression


interspecific data



phylogenetic comparative method





T. F. Hansen

University of Oslo

Krzysztof Bartoszek

University of Gothenburg

Chalmers, Mathematical Sciences, Mathematical Statistics

Systematic Biology

1063-5157 (ISSN) 1076-836X (eISSN)

Vol. 61 3 413-425

Subject Categories

Evolutionary Biology

Biological Sciences



Related datasets

Data from: Interpreting the evolutionary regression: the interplay between observational and biological errors in phylogenetic comparative studies [dataset]

DOI: 10.5061/dryad.r76cm3bn

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