simulator of collections of trees that are based on a classification with stochastic errors introduced
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This tool will be capable of simulating a large of a collection of big trees based on a classification. The motivation is to provide a set of trees that could be useful for testing the efficiency of the data store for the open tree of life project. A classification will be read in, substrees will be extracted and topological changes will be introduced into them before they are written out.


If you are using the bootstrap-open-tree-software system from then you'll have environmental variables define such that you can install the dependencies with:

python install ncl
cd $OPEN_TREE_SOURCE_DIR/big-tree-collection-simulator

Then from the top of this repository you can do something like this:

mkdir "build$OPEN_TREE_BUILD_TAG"
../configure --prefix=$OPEN_TREE_INSTALL_DIR --with-ncl=$OPEN_TREE_INSTALL_DIR

Note that "$OPEN_TREE_BUILD_TAG" is just a tag for the build (like "release" or "debug" The --prefix argument should point to where you want to install the tool and --with-ncl should point to the prefix directory specified when installing NCL.


To use, specify a tree to serve as the base and then provde commands. For example:

big-tree-sim -c test/basic-commands.txt test/poly.tre

or, equivalently:

echo 'resolve ; sample ; spr ; print ; quit ;' | big-tree-sim test/poly.tre

The structure of the simulation algorithm is: 1. read in a newick tree with all of the names (from unnamed command line arg). 2. resolve the tree (recommended, but not required). 3. sample a set of leaves from the tree. 4. apply SPR operations to the subsampled tree if you want a set of trees that may conflict with the input taxonomy. 5. print the subsampled tree.

The program works with two "slots" for a tree: 1. the full tree, and 2. the current, focal tree. Initally the focal tree points to the full tree. The SAMPLE command creates a subsampled tree as the focal tree. The PRINT, RESOLVE, and SPR commands act on the current focal tree (which will be the full tree if no SAMPLE command has been used).

Commands are terminated by a semicolon, not a newline! They are not case-sensitive.

RESOLVE command

The RESOLVE command makes the tree binary.

SAMPLE command (and WEIGHT command)

When using SAMPLE, the leaves are chosen in proportion to their leaf weights. This allows you to specify a set of leaves that will be preferentially sampled to mimic sampling biases (e.g. frequent occurrence of model organisms in phylogenetic studies, for example). By default all weights are 1.0, but with the WEIGHT command you can supply a weight and a filename all leaves with labels found in the file will be assigned the specified weight. Note that using weight differences so large that the result in rounding error when added can result in the SAMPLE command failing!

Note that the leaf weights apply to every part of the SAMPLE procedure, but not other commands (e.g. highly weighted leaves are not more likely to be selected in the SPR command).

With the SAMPLE command, you can specify a root depth, ingroup and ougroup size. The outgroup is always a set of leaves selected from the sister of your ingroup. The basic sample procedure is to repeat the following until a tree satisfies the constraint:

  1. randomly choose a leaf (according to weights) from the full tree,
  2. randomly choose an ingroup root depth within the constraints,
  3. See if the ingroup and outgroup sizes can be met by the chosen root, if "yes" go to step 4. If "no" go to step 2 (or back to step 1 if there are no other rooting points to try for this leaf choice).
  4. Randomly choose an ingroup size according within the constraints.
  5. Randomly select other ingroup leaves (the leaf chosen in step 1 is one member of the ingroup) or go back to 4 if there are not enough leaves in the clade.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 for the outgroup.
  7. Make a copy of the tree induced by the select leaves and store it as the focal tree.

SPR command

The SPR command randomly chooses a (non-root) node from the sampled tree and moves it a number of edges that is that is affected by the user constraints. Specifically a desired ReconLimit is selected as a uniform from the [ReconMin, ReconMax] range that the user controls. The node selected is move the ReconLimit number of edges if the tree is big enough to accommodate that many movements. Note that if the tree is unbalanced and the clade of all of the leaves but one is selected, then the SPR will have no affect (there is no where to move that clade). So the operation can be a no-op.

If the node selected by an SPR is attached to a polytomy, it will be reattached at a node (creating or adding to a polytomy). Thus the SPR operation does not change the number of nodes in the tree.

By using the Rep=# option you can perform a sequence of # Random SPR operations with the same constraints in the same command.

PRINT command

The prints a newick (or NEXUS) tree to the output stream specified by the last invocation of the OUT command (standard output is the default).

Additional tricks.

By using " REPEAT # ; CMD1 ; CMD2 ; ENDREPEAT " you can repeat a set of commands. For example

Resolve ;
Repeat 1000 ; 
    Sample RootMin=5 RootMax = 35 InMin=1000 InMax=1500 OutMin=1 OutMax=2 ;
    SPR Rep=3 ReconMax=5 ;
    Print ;

Using the SET command you can control how many times the SAMPLE command tries to find a subsampled tree before giving up, strict (exit on any failure or unrecognized syntax), verbosity, and random number seed.


Because we may use some of the tree reading and manipulation code in other projects, we have tried to make this code pretty fast. On MTH's laptop it can read a 1.1 million leaf tree and produce 1000 sampled and tweaked trees of over 1000 leaves each in about 50 seconds.

But there are ways we could make this faster; let us know if you encounter sluggishness that it causing real problems for you.


See the Issues.txt file for a gotcha with respect to parsing of newick trees and disambiguation of repeated labels.

Note that if you specify very unlikely SAMPLE parameters (eg. ingroup of thousands of leaves, but rootdepth of 1 or 2), the SAMPLE command may bail out without creating a tree!

The command line parser is crude separate each flag from others and from values with a space (so "-s 12514 -x" not "-s12514 -x" or "-xs 12514").