Load packages, including phyloseq

Of course we need to start this tutorial by loading the phyloseq package. This assumes you have already installed phyloseq.

library("phyloseq"); packageVersion("phyloseq")
## [1] '1.22.3'
library("ggplot2"); packageVersion("ggplot2")
## [1] '2.2.1'
library("plyr"); packageVersion("plyr")
## [1] '1.8.4'

ggplot2 package theme set. See the ggplot2 online documentation for further help.


The distance function

The distance function takes a phyloseq-class object and method option, and returns a dist-class distance object suitable for certain ordination methods and other distance-based analyses. There are currently 44 explicitly supported method options in the phyloseq package, as well as user-provided arbitrary methods via an interface to vegan::designdist. For the complete list of currently supported options/arguments to the method parameter, type distanceMethodList in the command-line of your R session. Only sample-wise distances are currently supported (the type argument), but eventually OTU-wise (e.g. species) distances will be supported as well.

See the in-package documentation of distance for further details:



distance(physeq, method="unifrac", type="samples", ...)

Example: “Enterotypes” dataset using many different methods

Because the distance() function organizes distance calculations into one function, it is relatively straightforward to calculate all supported distance methods and investigate the results. The following code will perform such a loop on the “Enterotypes” dataset, perform multi-dimensional scaling (a.k.a. principle coordinates analysis), and plot the first two axes, shading and shaping the points in each plot according to sequencing technology and assigned “Enterotype” label.

Note that we have omitted the options that require a phylogenetic tree because the "enterotype" example dataset currently included in the phyloseq-package does not have one.

Note that this may take a little while to run, depending on the size of your data set, but you may not be interested in all supported distances…

Load Data

Load the enterotype data


Some preliminary filtering. More advanced preprocessing is recommended.

Remove the OTUs that included all unassigned sequences ("-1")

enterotype <- subset_taxa(enterotype, Genus != "-1")

The available distance methods coded in distance

dist_methods <- unlist(distanceMethodList)
##     UniFrac1     UniFrac2        DPCoA          JSD     vegdist1 
##    "unifrac"   "wunifrac"      "dpcoa"        "jsd"  "manhattan" 
##     vegdist2     vegdist3     vegdist4     vegdist5     vegdist6 
##  "euclidean"   "canberra"       "bray" "kulczynski"    "jaccard" 
##     vegdist7     vegdist8     vegdist9    vegdist10    vegdist11 
##      "gower"   "altGower"   "morisita"       "horn"  "mountford" 
##    vegdist12    vegdist13    vegdist14    vegdist15   betadiver1 
##       "raup"   "binomial"       "chao"        "cao"          "w" 
##   betadiver2   betadiver3   betadiver4   betadiver5   betadiver6 
##         "-1"          "c"         "wb"          "r"          "I" 
##   betadiver7   betadiver8   betadiver9  betadiver10  betadiver11 
##          "e"          "t"         "me"          "j"        "sor" 
##  betadiver12  betadiver13  betadiver14  betadiver15  betadiver16 
##          "m"         "-2"         "co"         "cc"          "g" 
##  betadiver17  betadiver18  betadiver19  betadiver20  betadiver21 
##         "-3"          "l"         "19"         "hk"        "rlb" 
##  betadiver22  betadiver23  betadiver24        dist1        dist2 
##        "sim"         "gl"          "z"    "maximum"     "binary" 
##        dist3   designdist 
##  "minkowski"        "ANY"

Remove the two distance-methods that require a tree, and the generic custom method that requires user-defined distance arguments.

# These require tree
##   UniFrac1   UniFrac2      DPCoA 
##  "unifrac" "wunifrac"    "dpcoa"
# Remove them from the vector
dist_methods <- dist_methods[-(1:3)]
# This is the user-defined method:
## designdist 
##      "ANY"
# Remove the user-defined distance
dist_methods = dist_methods[-which(dist_methods=="ANY")]

Loop through each distance method, save each plot to a list, called plist.

plist <- vector("list", length(dist_methods))
names(plist) = dist_methods
for( i in dist_methods ){
    # Calculate distance matrix
    iDist <- distance(enterotype, method=i)
    # Calculate ordination
    iMDS  <- ordinate(enterotype, "MDS", distance=iDist)
    ## Make plot
    # Don't carry over previous plot (if error, p will be blank)
    p <- NULL
    # Create plot, store as temp variable, p
    p <- plot_ordination(enterotype, iMDS, color="SeqTech", shape="Enterotype")
    # Add title to each plot
    p <- p + ggtitle(paste("MDS using distance method ", i, sep=""))
    # Save the graphic to file.
    plist[[i]] = p

Combine results

Shade according to sequencing technology

df = ldply(plist, function(x) x$data)
names(df)[1] <- "distance"
p = ggplot(df, aes(Axis.1, Axis.2, color=SeqTech, shape=Enterotype))
p = p + geom_point(size=3, alpha=0.5)
p = p + facet_wrap(~distance, scales="free")
p = p + ggtitle("MDS on various distance metrics for Enterotype dataset")

Shade according to assigned enterotype

df = ldply(plist, function(x) x$data)
names(df)[1] <- "distance"
p = ggplot(df, aes(Axis.1, Axis.2, color=Enterotype, shape=SeqTech))
p = p + geom_point(size=3, alpha=0.5)
p = p + facet_wrap(~distance, scales="free")
p = p + ggtitle("MDS on various distance metrics for Enterotype dataset")

Compare results

The following are some selected examples among the created plots.

Jensen-Shannon Divergence