Phylogenetic methods have recently been applied to studies of cultural evolution. However, it has been claimed that the large amount of horizontal transmission that sometimes occurs between cultural groups invalidates the use of these methods. Here, we use a natural model of linguistic evolution to simulate borrowing between languages. The results show that tree topologies constructed with Bayesian phylogenetic methods are robust to realistic levels of borrowing. Inferences about divergence dates are slightly less robust and show a tendency to underestimate dates. Our results demonstrate that realistic levels of reticulation between cultures do not invalidate a phylogenetic approach to cultural and linguistic evolution.
Does horizontal transmission invalidate cultural phylogenies?
Greenhill SJ, Currie TE, & Gray RD (2009) Does horizontal transmission invalidate cultural phylogenies? Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 276: 2299-2306.
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