Optimal Estimation of Wasserstein Distance on A Tree with An Application to Microbiome Studies
Shulei Wang, Tony Cai, and Hongzhe Li
Weighted UniFrac distance, a plug-in estimator of the Wasserstein distance of read counts on a tree, has been widely used to measure the microbial community difference in microbiome studies. Our investigation however shows that such a plug-in estimator, although intuitive and commonly used in practice, suffers from potential bias. Motivated by this finding, we study the problem of optimally estimating the Wasserstein distance between two distributions on a tree from the sampled data in the high-dimensional setting. Minimax rate of convergence is established. To overcome the bias problem, we introduce a new estimator, referred to as moment-screening estimator on a tree (MET), by conducting implicit best polynomial approximation that incorporates the tree structure. The new estimator is computationally efficient and is shown to be minimax rate-optimal. Numerical studies using both simulated and real biological datasets demonstrate the practical merits of MET, including reduced biases and statistically more significant differences in microbiome between inactive Crohn's disease patients and the normal controls.