How Accurate and Robust Are the Phylogenetic Estimates of Austronesian Language Relationships?
We recently used computational phylogenetic methods on lexical data to test between two scenarios for the peopling of the Pacific. Our analyses of lexical data supported a pulse-pause scenario of Pacific settlement in which the Austronesian speakers originated in Taiwan around 5,200 years ago and rapidly spread through the Pacific in a series of expansion pulses and settlement pauses. We claimed that there was high congruence between traditional language subgroups and those observed in the language phylogenies, and that the estimated age of the Austronesian expansion at 5,200 years ago was consistent with the archaeological evidence. However, the congruence between the language phylogenies and the evidence from historical linguistics was not quantitatively assessed using tree comparison metrics. The robustness of the divergence time estimates to different calibration points was also not investigated exhaustively. Here we address these limitations by using a systematic tree comparison metric to calculate the similarity between the Bayesian phylogenetic trees and the subgroups proposed by historical linguistics, and by re-estimating the age of the Austronesian expansion using only the most robust calibrations. The results show that the Austronesian language phylogenies are highly congruent with the traditional subgroupings, and the date estimates are robust even when calculated using a restricted set of historical calibrations.