Minimum triplet covers of binary phylogenetic X-trees
© 2017, The Author(s). Trees with labelled leaves and with all other vertices of degree three play an important role in systematic biology and other areas of classification. A classical combinatorial result ensures that such trees can be uniquely reconstructed from the distances between the leaves (when the edges are given any strictly positive lengths). Moreover, a linear number of these pairwise distance values suffices to determine both the tree and its edge lengths. A natural set of pairs of leaves is provided by any ‘triplet cover’ of the tree (based on the fact that each non-leaf vertex is the median vertex of three leaves). In this paper we describe a number of new results concerning triplet covers of minimum size. In particular, we characterize such covers in terms of an associated graph being a 2-tree. Also, we show that minimum triplet covers are ‘shellable’ and thereby provide a set of pairs for which the inter-leaf distance values will uniquely determine the underlying tree and its associated branch lengths.