Inferring the rates of change of a population from a reconstructed phylogeny of genetic sequences is a central problem in macro-evolutionary biology, epidemiology, and many other disciplines. A popular solution involves estimating the parameters of a birth-death process (BDP), which links the shape of the phylogeny to its birth and death rates. Modern BDP estimators rely on random Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) sampling to infer these rates. Such methods, while powerful and scalable, cannot be guaranteed to converge, leading to results that may be hard to replicate or difficult to validate.We present a conceptually and computationally different parametric BDP inference approach using flexible and easy to implement Snyder filter (SF) algorithms. This method is deterministic so its results are provable, guaranteed, and reproducible. We validate the SF on constant rate BDPs and find that it solves BDP likelihoods known to produce robust estimates. We then examine more complex BDPs with time-varying rates. Our estimates compare well with a recently developed parametric MCMC inference method. Lastly, we performmodel selection on an empirical Agamid species phylogeny, obtaining results consistent with the literature. The SF makes no approximations, beyond those required for parameter quantisation and numerical integration, and directly computes the posterior distribution of model parameters. It is a promising alternative inference algorithm that may serve either as a standalone Bayesian estimator or as a useful diagnostic reference for validating more involved MCMC strategies.The Snyder filter is implemented in Matlab and the time-varying BDP models are simulated in R. The source code and data are freely available at material is available at Bioinformatics online.

Original publication




Journal article


Bioinformatics (Oxford, England)

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Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Oxford, OX1 3SY, UK.