Tree Reconstruction from Triplet Cover Distances

  • Katharina T. Huber
  • Mike Steel
Keywords: X-tree, tree metric, tree reconstruction, shellability, triplet cover


It is a classical result that any finite tree with positively weighted edges, and without vertices of degree 2, is uniquely determined by the weighted path distance between each pair of leaves. Moreover, it is possible for a (small) strict subset $\mathcal{L}$ of leaf pairs to suffice for reconstructing the tree and its edge weights, given just the distances between the leaf pairs in $\mathcal{L}$. It is known that any set ${\mathcal L}$ with this property for a tree in which all interior vertices have degree 3 must form a cover  for $T$ - that is, for each interior vertex $v$ of $T$, ${\mathcal L}$ must contain a pair of leaves from each pair of the three components of  $T-v$.  Here we provide a partial converse of this result by showing that if a set ${\mathcal L}$ of leaf pairs forms a cover  of a certain type for such a tree $T$ then $T$ and its edge weights can be uniquely determined from the distances between the pairs of leaves in ${\mathcal L}$. Moreover,  there is a polynomial-time algorithm for achieving this reconstruction. The result establishes a special case of a recent question concerning 'triplet covers', and is relevant to a problem arising in evolutionary genomics.
Article Number