Wednesday, November 29, 2023

It's 2023 - why are we still not sharing phylogenies?

How to cite: Page, R. (2023). It’s 2023 - why are we still not sharing phylogenies?

A quick note to support a recent Twitter thread

The article “Diversification of flowering plants in space and time” by Dimitrov et al. describes a genus-level phylogeny for 14,244 flowering plant genera. This is a major achievement, and yet neither the tree nor the data supporting that tree are readily available. There is lots of supplementary information (as PDF files), but no machine readable tree or alignment data.

Dimitrov, D., Xu, X., Su, X. et al. Diversification of flowering plants in space and time. Nat Commun 14, 7609 (2023).

What we have is a link to a web site which in turn has a link to a OneZoom visualisation. If you look at the source code for the web site you can see the phylogeny in Newick format as a Javascript file.

This is a far from ideal way to share data. Readers can’t easily get the tree, explore it, evaluate it, or use it in their own analyses. I grabbed the tree and put it online as a GitHub GIST. Once you have the tree you can do things such as try a different tree viewer, such as PhyloCloud

That is a start, but it’s clearly not ideal. Why didn’t the authors put the tree (and the data) into a proper repository, such as Zenodo where it would be persistent and citable, and also linked to the authors’ ORCID profile? That way everybody wins, readers get a tree to explore, the authors have an additional citable output.

The state of sharing of phylogenetic data is dire, not helped by the slow and painful demise of TreeBASE. Sharing machine readable trees and datasets still does not seem to be the norm in phylogenetics.

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