Maximum-likelihood phylogenetic inference

RAxML is a standard tool for phylogenetic inference popular for its speed and ease of use, and is among the most commonly used software for analyzing RAD-seq alignments. While it is easy to run a multi-threaded version of RAxML, which can take advantage of many threads on a single machine, it is a bit more difficult to optimize a run that is parallized over many connected machines on a HPC cluster, which requires the MPI version. Below we list a few common commands for analyzing large RAD-seq alignments in RAxML. This is not an exhaustive tutorial, just a quick quide.

More information about RAxML can be found in the v.8.0 raxml documentation and on the google group raxml forum.

Running raxml (threaded) on a single node

This is the most common code I use to analyses RAD-seq alignments. It runs the (-f a) method, which performs the standard hill-climbing algorithm to find the best scoring ML tree and it performs a rapid bootstrap analysis. We tell it how many bootstraps with the -N option.

## this is an example call to run raxml tree inference w/ bootstrapping
raxmlHPC-PTHREADS-AVX2 -f a \              ## do rapid-bootstrapping & full search
                  -T 20 \                  ## number of threads available
                  -m GTRGAMMA \            ## use GTRGAMMA model
                  -N 100 \                 ## 100 searches from parsimony start trees
                  -x 12345 \               ## bootstrap random seed
                  -p 54321 \               ## parsimony random seed
                  -n outname \             ## a name for your output files
                  -w outdir \              ## a directory for your output files
                  -s inputfile.phy \       ## your sequence alignment
                  -o outgroup1,outgroup2   ## set your outgroups!

Optional: running RAxML interactively in a jupyter-notebook

We have written a wrapper function to easily run simple raxml analyses in a jupyter notebook. It is a convenience function that removes a lot of work if you find yourself typing in the same raxml command string over and over again each week. See this ipyrad analysis raxml tutorial for more details.

Should I use the GTRCAT model?

GTRCAT is a speed improvement for modeling rate variation under the GTRGAMMA model. It is particularly designed for modeling rate heterogeneity across very large trees (e.g., hundreds of taxa), and is not recommended for smaller trees. In fact the raxml docs state in bold font that using it for less than 50 taxa is a bad idea. If your tree has >100 taxa then I would say go for it.

Setting an outgroup

If you have prior information about which clade is the outgroup I recommend setting this value in the command string. List each sampled taxon in the outgroup comma-separated. Setting the outgroups makes your life easier. If you do not set the outgroup but try to re-root your tree later the node labels indicating bootstrap support values can easily become misplaced in many tree plotting programs.

Installing raxml on a cluster

There are many versions of raxml available and the one on your system may not be up to date. You can ask your administrator to install the latest version, or install it yourself locally (you do not need administrative privileges to do so.) I usually recommend using conda, which makes it quite easy to install:

## one way of installing raxml is with conda
conda install raxml -c bioconda

However, you will probably be able to get a bit faster performance if you build raxml from source on your machine, since conda does not yet handle well checking for various threading/compiling options. Therefore, as an alternative to using conda, or your HPC system’s version of raxml, the code below can be used to install a specific version of raxml locally. In this example I install the AVX2 version after checking that the system I was using had AVX2 available. This installation will put the executables in a local directory called ~/local/bin/ which you will want to add to your $PATH (i.e., add it to your .bashrc file).

## (optional) create directories to store the software.
## I use ~/local/src to store source code and
## I use ~/local/bin to store binaries.
mkdir -p ~/local/src ~/local/bin

## cd to where you want to store the raxml source code.
cd ~/local/src

## use git to clone the raxml github repo into your src dir
git clone

## now cd into the raxml directory
cd standard-RAxML.git

## compile the AVX2.MPI version of raxml
make -f Makefile.AVX2.MPI.gcc

## compile the AVX2.PTHREADS version of raxml
rm *.o
make -f Makefile.AVX2.PTHREADS.gcc

## compile the hybrid version
rm *.o
make -f Makefile.AVX2.HYBRID.gcc

## (optional) copy the binary to your binaries dir
cp raxml-MPI-AVX2 ~/local/bin
cp raxml-PTHREADS-AVX2 ~/local/bin
cp raxml-HYBRID-AVX2 ~/local/bin

Why multiple versions?

If you only plan to use a single compute node on your cluster then you should just use the PTHREADS (threaded) version, as this will most efficiently make use of the cores on that node. The MPI version is needed to make use of cores spread across multiple nodes, however, it only offers a subset of the functions that are available in the threaded version. Mostly it is used for distributing many independent bootstrap analyses, which later need to be combined using the options in raxml to do this. The HYBRID approach makes use of MPI to distribute threaded jobs across different compute nodes, but I think it’s pretty tricky to get working right.

Submitting an MPI HYBRID job to run on a cluster (experimental)

The method we are using will distribute 100 replicate analyses across all of the cores you are connected to (including across multiple nodes) using MPI. But we need to make sure we tell the program explicitly how we many cores will be available. If you have ipyrad installed then you will already have MPI installed (just type mpiexec), but your system probably has a version installed as well.

Below is an example SLURM (sbatch) submission script, you can make something similar but slightly different for other systems such as TORQUE (qsub). Save the file with a name like

# set the number of nodes and processes per node
#SBATCH --nodes 4
#SBATCH --ntasks-per-node 20
#SBATCH --exclusive
#SBATCH --time 10-00:00:00
#SBATCH --mem-per-cpu 4000
#SBATCH --job-name raxml-0
#SBATCH --output raxml-0

## make sure you're in your home directory
cd $HOME

## you can load a system-wide MPI module if available
module load OpenMPI

## call mpiexec and raxml, use -np for number of cores.
~/miniconda/bin/mpiexec -np 4 ~/local/bin/raxml-HYBRID-AVX2 \
                  -T 20 \
                  -f a \
                  -m GTRGAMMA \
                  -N 100 \
                  -x 12345 \
                  -p 54321 \
                  -n raxml-0 \
                  -w raxml_runs/ \
                  -s test/test_outfiles/test.phy \
                  -o outg1,outg2

Then submit the job to run on your cluster. Sometimes you will have to add additional arguments to the submission script, such as the name of the queue that you are submitting to.


Plotting the trees

There are many ways to do this. I wrote a Python program called toytree which I prefer, but another popular alternative is the ape package in R.

To make a simple tree plot in python use the code below.

## load modules
import toyplot
import toytree

## draw a tree
tre = toytree.tree("raxout/")
canvas, axes = tre.draw(

## save the tree
toyplot.html.render(canvas, "mytree.html")
import toyplot.pdf
toyplot.pdf.render(canvas, "mytree.pdf")

To make a simple tree plot in R use the code below.

## load the ape library

## read in the tree file
tre <- read.tree("raxout/")

## ladderize the tree (makes it prettier)
ltre <- ladderize(tre)

## plot the tree with bootstrap support on node labels
plot(ltre, cex=0.7)
nodelabels(ltre$node.label, cex=0.7)