Explaining the uneven distribution of species among lineages is one of the oldest questions in evolution. Proposed correlations between biological traits and species diversity are routinely tested by making comparisons between phylogenetic sister clades. Several recent studies have used nested sister-clade comparisons to test hypotheses linking continuously varying traits, such as body size, with diversity. Evaluating the findings of these studies is complicated because they differ in the index of species richness difference used, the way in which trait differences were treated, and the statistical tests employed. In this paper, we use simulations to compare the performance of four species richness indices, two choices about the branch lengths used to estimate trait values for internal nodes and two statistical tests under a range of models of clade growth and character evolution. All four indices returned appropriate Type I error rates when the assumptions of the method were met and when branch lengths were set proportional to time. Only two of the indices were robust to the different evolutionary models and to different choices of branch lengths and statistical tests. These robust indices had comparable power under one nonnull scenario. Regression through the origin was consistently more powerful than the t-test, and the choice of branch lengths exerts a strong effect on both the validity and power. In the light of our simulations, we re-evaluate the findings of those who have previously used nested comparisons in the context of species richness. We provide a set of simple guidelines to maximize the performance of phylogenetically nested comparisons in tests of putative correlates of species richness.
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Vol. 57 • No. 1