Evaluation of methods for estimating coalescence times using ancestral recombination graphs

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The ancestral recombination graph (ARG) is a structure that describes the joint genealogies of sampled DNA sequences along the genome. Recent computational methods have made impressive progress towards scalably estimating whole-genome genealogies. In addition to inferring the ARG, some of these methods can also provide ARGs sampled from a defined posterior distribution. Obtaining good samples of ARGs is crucial for quantifying statistical uncertainty and for estimating population genetic parameters such as effective population size, mutation rate, and allele age. Here, we use standard neutral coalescent simulations to benchmark the estimates of pairwise coalescence times from three popular ARG inference programs: ARGweaver, Relate, and tsinfer+tsdate. We compare 1) the true coalescence times to the inferred times at each locus; 2) the distribution of coalescence times across all loci to the expected exponential distribution; 3) whether the sampled coalescence times have the properties expected of a valid posterior distribution. We find that inferred coalescence times at each locus are most accurate in ARGweaver, and often more accurate in Relate than in tsinfer+tsdate. However, all three methods tend to overestimate small coalescence times and underestimate large ones. Lastly, the posterior distribution of ARGweaver is closer to the expected posterior distribution than Relate's, but this higher accuracy comes at a substantial trade-off in scalability. The best choice of method will depend on the number and length of input sequences and on the goal of downstream analyses, and we provide guidelines for the best practices.

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