Computing the distribution of a tree metric
The Robinson-Foulds (RF) distance is by far the most widely used measure of dissimilarity between trees. Although the distribution of these distances has been investigated for twenty years, an algorithm that is explicitly polynomial time has yet to be described for computing this distribution (which is also the dis- tribution of trees around a given tree under the popular Robinson-Foulds metric). In this paper we derive a polynomial-time algorithm for this distribution. We show how the distribution can be approximated by a Poisson distribution determined by the proportion of leaves that lie in ‘cherries’ of the given tree. We also describe how our results can be used to derive normalization constants that are required in a recently-proposed maximum likelihood approach to supertree construction.