Tree reconstruction from partial orders

Sampath K. Kannan, Tandy J. Warnow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The problem of constructing trees given a matrix of interleaf distances is motivated by applications in computational evolutionary biology and linguistics. The general problem is to find an edge-weighted tree which most closely approximates (under some norm) the distance matrix. Although the construction problem is easy when the tree exactly fits the distance matrix, optimization problems under all popular criteria are either known or conjectured to be NP-complete. In this paper we consider the related problem where we are given a partial order on the pairwise distances and wish to construct (if possible) an edge-weighted tree realizing the partial order. We are particularly interested in partial orders which arise from experiments on triples of species. We will show that the consistency problem is NP-hard in general, but that for certain special cases the construction problem can be solved in polynomial time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)511-519
Number of pages9
JournalSIAM Journal on Computing
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1995
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science(all)
  • Mathematics(all)


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