# Generating uniform trees

A long time ago, I wrote quite a few a things about uniform trees. That is, a uniform choice from the $n^{n-2}$ unrooted trees with vertex set [n]. This enumeration, normally called Cayley’s formula, has several elegant arguments, including the classical Prufer bijection. But making a uniform choice from a large set is awkward, and so we seek more probabilistic methods to sample such a tree, which might also give insight into the structure of a ‘typical’ uniform tree.

In another historic post, I talked about the Aldous-Broder algorithm. Here’s a quick summary. We run a random walk on the complete graph $K_n$ started from a uniformly-chosen vertex. Every time we arrive at a vertex we haven’t visited before, we record the edge just traversed. Eventually we have visited all n vertices, so have recorded n-1 edges. It’s easy enough to convince yourself that these n-1 edges form a tree (how could there be a cycle?) and a bit more complicated to decide that the distribution of this tree is uniform.

It’s worth noting that this algorithm works to construct a uniform spanning tree on any connected base graph.

This post is about a few alternative constructions and interpretations of the uniform random tree. The first construction uses a Galton-Watson process. We take a Galton-Watson process where the offspring distribution is Poisson(1), and condition that the total population size is n. The resulting random tree has a root but no labels, however if we assign labels in [n] uniformly at random, the resulting rooted tree has the uniform distribution among rooted trees on [n].

Proof

This is all about moving from ordered trees to non-ordered trees. That is, when setting up a Galton-Watson tree, we distinguish between the following two trees, drawn extremely roughly in Paint:

That is, it matters which of the first-generation vertices have three children. Anyway, for such a (rooted) ordered tree T with n vertices, the probability that the Galton-Watson process ends up equal to T is

$\mathbb{P}(GW = T) = \prod_{v\in T} \frac{e^{-1}}{C(v)!} = e^{-n} \prod_{v\in T}\frac{1}{C(v)!},$

where $C(v)$ is the number of children of a vertex $v\in T$. Then, since $\mathbb{P}( |GW|=n )$ is a function of n, we find

$\mathbb{P}(GW=T \,\big|\, |GW|=n) = f(n)\prod_{v\in T} \frac{1}{C(v)!},$

where f(n) is a function of n alone (ie depends on T only through its size n).

But given an unordered rooted tree t, labelled by [n], there are $\prod_{v \in t} C(v)!$ ordered trees associated to t in the natural way. Furthermore, if we take the Poisson Galton-Watson tree conditioned to have total population size n, and label uniformly at random with [n], we obtain any one of these ordered trees with probability $\frac{f(n)}{n!} \prod_{v\in t} \frac{1}{C(v)!}$. So the probability that we have t after we forget about the ordering is $\frac{f(n)}{n!}$, which is a function of n alone, and so the distribution is uniform among the set of rooted unordered trees labelled by [n], exactly as required.

Heuristic for Poisson offspring distribution

In this proof, the fact that $\mathbb{P}(C(v)=k)\propto \frac{1}{k!}$ exactly balances the number of orderings of the k children explains why Poisson(1) works out. Indeed, you can see in the proof that Poisson(c) works equally well, though when $c\ne 1$, the event we are conditioning on (namely that the total population size is n) has probability decaying exponentially in n, whereas for c=1, the branching process is critical, and the probability decays polynomially.

We can provide independent motivation though, from the Aldous-Broder construction. Both the conditioned Galton-Watson construction and the A-B algorithm supply the tree with a root, so we’ll keep that, and look at the distribution of the degree of the root as constructed by A-B. Let $\rho=v_1,v_2,v_3,\ldots$ be the vertices [n], ordered by their discovery during the construction. Then $\rho$ is definitely connected by an edge to $v_2$, but thereafter it follows by an elementary check that the probability $\rho$ is connected to $v_m$ is $\frac{1}{n-1}$, independently across all m. In other words, the distribution of the degree of $\rho$ in the tree as constructed by A-B is

$1+ \mathrm{Bin}\left(n-2,\frac{1}{n-1}\right) \approx 1+\mathrm{Poisson}(1).$

Now, in the Galton-Watson process, conditioning the tree to have fixed, large size changes the offspring distribution of the root. Conveniently though, in a limiting sense it’s the same change as conditioning the tree to have size at least n. Since these events are monotone in n, it’s possible to take a limit of the conditioning events, and interpret the result as the Galton-Watson tree conditioned to survive. It’s a beautiful result that this interpretation can be formalised as a local limit. The limiting spine decomposition consists of an infinite spine, where the offspring distribution is a size-biased version of the original offspring distribution (and so in particular, always has at least one child) and where non-spine vertices have the original distribution.

In particular, the number of the offspring of the root is size-biased, and it is well-known and not hard to check that size-biasing Poisson(c) gives 1+Poisson(c) ! So in fact we have, in an appropriate limiting sense in both objects, a match between the degree distribution of the root in the uniform tree, and in the conditioned Galton-Watson tree.

This isn’t supposed to justify why a conditioned Galton-Watson tree is relevant a priori (especially the unconditional independence of degrees), but it does explain why Poisson offspring distributions are relevant.

Construction via G(N,p) and the random cluster model

The main reason uniform trees were important to my thesis was their appearance in the Erdos-Renyi random graph G(N,p). The probability that vertices {1, …, n} form a tree component in G(N,p) with some particular structure is

$p^{n-1} (1-p)^{\binom{n}{2}-(n-1)} \times (1-p)^{n(N-m)}.$

Here, the first two terms give the probability that the graph structure on {1, …, n} is correct, and the the final term gives the probability of the (independent) event that these vertices are not connected to anything else in the graph. In particular, this has no dependence on the tree structure chosen on [n] (for example, whether it should be a path or a star – both examples of trees). So the conditional distribution is uniform among all trees.

If we work in some limiting regime, where $pn\rightarrow 0$ (for example if n is fixed and $p=\frac{1}{N}\rightarrow 0$), then we can get away asymptotically with less strong conditioning. Suppose we condition instead just that [n] form a component. Now, there are more ways to form a connected graph with one cycle on [n] than there are trees on [n], but the former all require an extra edge, and so the probability that a given one such tree-with-extra-edge appears as the restriction to [n] in G(N,p) is asymptotically negligible compared to the probability that the restriction to [n] of G(N,p) is a tree. Naturally, the local limit of components in G(N,c/N) is a Poisson(c) Galton-Watson branching process, and so this is all consistent with the original construction.

One slightly unsatisfying aspect to this construction is that we have to embed the tree of size [n] within a much larger graph on [N] to see uniform trees. We can’t choose a scaling p=p(n) such that G(n,p) itself concentrates on trees. To guarantee connectivity with high probability, we need to take $p> \frac{\log n}{n}$, but by this threshold, the graph has (many) cycles with high probability.

At this PIMS summer school in Vancouver, one of the courses is focusing on lattice spin models, including the random cluster model, which we now briefly define. We start with some underlying graph G. From a physical motivation, we might take G to be $\mathbb{Z}^d$ or some finite subset of it, or a d-ary tree, or the complete graph $K_N$. As in classical bond percolation (note G(N,p) is bond percolation on $K_N$), a random subset of the edges of G are included, or declared open. The probability of a given configuration w, with e open edges is proportional to

$p^e (1-p)^{|E(G)| - e} q^{k(w)},$ (*)

where the edge-weight $p\in(0,1)$ as usual, and cluster weight $q\in (0,\infty)$, and $k(w)$ counts the number of connected components in configuration w. When q=1, we recover classical bond percolation (including G(N,p) ), while for q>1, this cluster-reweighting favours having more components, and q<1 favours fewer components. Note that in the case $q\ne 1$, the normalising constant (or partition function) of (*) is generally intractable to calculate explicitly.

As in the Erdos-Renyi graph, consider fixing the underlying graph G, and taking $p\rightarrow 0$, but also taking $\frac{q}{p}\rightarrow 0$. So the resulting graph asymptotically ‘wants to have as few edges as possible, but really wants to have as few components as possible’. In particular, 1) all spanning trees of G are equally likely; 2) any configuration with more than one component has asymptotically negligible probability relative to any tree; 3) any graph with a cycle has #components + #edges greater than that of a tree, and so is asymptotically negligible probability relative to any tree.

In other words, the limit of the distribution is the uniform spanning tree of G, and so this (like Aldous-Broder) is a substantial generalisation, which constructs the uniform random tree in the special case where $G=K_n$.

# Exploring the Supercritical Random Graph

I’ve spent a bit of time this week reading and doing all the exercises from some excellent notes by van der Hofstad about random graphs. I think they are absolutely excellent and would not be surprised if they become the standard text for an introduction to probabilistic combinatorics. You can find them hosted on the author’s website. I’ve been reading chapters 4 and 5, which approaches the properties of phase transitions in G(n,p) by formalising the analogy between component sizes and population sizes in a binomial branching process. When I met this sort of material for the first time during Part III, the proofs generally relied on careful first and second moment bounds, which is fine in many ways, but I enjoyed vdH’s (perhaps more modern?) approach, as it seems to give a more accurate picture of what is actually going on. In this post, I am going to talk about using the branching process picture to explain why the giant component emerges when it does, and how to get a grip on how large it is at any time after it has emerged.

Background

A quick tour through the background, and in particular the notation will be required. At some point I will write a post about this topic in a more digestible format, but for now I want to move on as quickly as possible.

We are looking at the sparse random graph $G(n,\frac{\lambda}{n})$, in the super-critical phase $\lambda>1$. With high probability (that is, with probability tending to 1 as n grows), we have a so-called giant component, with O(n) vertices.

Because all the edges in the configuration are independent, we can view the component containing a fixed vertex as a branching process. Given vertex v(1), the number of neighbours is distributed like $\text{Bi}(n-1,\frac{\lambda}{n})$. The number of neighbours of each of these which we haven’t already considered is then $\text{Bi}(n-k,\frac{\lambda}{n})$, conditional on k, the number of vertices we have already discounted. After any finite number of steps, k=o(n), and so it is fairly reasonable to approximate this just by $\text{Bi}(n,\frac{\lambda}{n})$. Furthermore, as n grows, this distribution converges to $\text{Po}(\lambda)$, and so it is natural to expect that the probability that the fixed vertex lies in a giant component is equal to the survival probability $\zeta_\lambda$ (that is, the probability that it is infinite) of a branching process with $\text{Po}(\lambda)$ offspring distribution. Note that given a graph, the probability of a fixed vertex lying in a giant component is equal to the fraction of the vertex in the giant component. At this point it is clear why the emergence of the giant component must happen at $\lambda=1$, because we require $\mathbb{E}\text{Po}(\lambda)>1$ for the survival probability to be non-zero. Obviously, all of this needs to be made precise and rigorous, and this is treated in sections 4.3 and 4.4 of the notes.

Exploration Process

A common functional of a rooted branching process to consider is the following. This is called in various places an exploration process, a depth-first process or a Lukasiewicz path. We take a depth-first labelling of the tree v(0), v(1), v(2),… , and define c(k) to be the number of children of vertex v(k). We then define the exploration process by:

$S(0)=0,\quad S(k+1)=S(k)+c(k)-1.$

By far the best way to think of this is to imagine we are making the depth-first walk on the tree. S(k) records how many vertices we have seen (because they are connected by an edge to a vertex we have visited) but have not yet visited. To clarify understanding of the definition, note that when you arrive at a vertex with no children, this should decrease by one, as you can see no new vertices, but have visited an extra one.

This exploration process is useful to consider for a couple of reasons. Firstly, you can reconstruct the branching process directly from it. Secondly, while other functionals (eg the height, or contour process) look like random walks, the exploration process genuinely is a random walk. The distribution of the number of children of the next vertex we arrive at is independent of everything we have previously seen in the tree, and is the same for every vertex. If we were looking at branching processes in a different context, we might observe that this gives some information in a suitably-rescaled limit, as rescaled random walks converge to Brownian motion if the variance of the (offspring) distribution is finite. (This is Donsker’s result, which I should write something about soon…)

The most important property is that the exploration process returns to 0 precisely when we have exhausted all the vertices in a component. At that point, we have seen exactly the vertices which we have explored. There is no reason not to extend the definition to forests, that is a union of trees. The depth-first exploration is the same – but when we have exhausted one component, we move onto another component, chosen according to some labelling property. Then, running minima of the exploration process (ie times when it is smaller than it has been before) correspond to jumping between components, and thus excursions above the minimum to components themselves. The running minimum will be non-positive, with absolute value equal to the number of components already exhausted.

Although the exploration process was defined with reference to and in the language of trees, the result of a branching process, this is not necessary. With some vertex denoted as the root, we can construct a depth-first labelling of a general graph, and the exploration process follows exactly as before. Note that we end up ignoring all edges except a set that forms a forest. This is what we will apply to G(n,p).

Exploring G(n,p)

When we jump between components in the exploration process on a supercritical (that is $\lambda>1$) random graph, we move to a component chosen randomly with size-biased distribution. If there is a giant component, as we know there is in the supercritical case, then this will dominate the size-biased distribution. Precisely, if the giant component takes up a fraction H of the vertices, then the number of components to be explored before we get to the giant component is geometrically distributed with parameter H. All other components have size O(log n), so the expected number of vertices explored before we get to the giant component is O(log n)/H = o(n), and so in the limit, we explore the giant component immediately.

The exploration process therefore gives good control on the giant component in the limit, as roughly speaking the first time it returns to 0 is the size of the giant component. Fortunately, we can also control the distribution of S_t, the exploration process at time t. We have that:

$S_t+(t-1)\sim \text{Bi}(n-1,1-(1-p)^t).$

This is not too hard to see. $S_t+(t-1)$ is number of vertices we have explored or seen, ie are connected to a vertex we have explored. Suppose the remaining vertices are called unseen, and we began the exploration at vertex 1. Then any vertex with label in {2,…,n} is unseen if it successively avoids being in the neighbourhood of v(1), v(2), … v(t). This happens with probability $(1-p)^t$, and so the probability of being an explored or seen vertex is the complement of this.

In the supercritical case, we are taking $p=\frac{\lambda}{n}$ with $\lambda>1$, and we also want to speed up S, so that all the exploration processes are defined on [0,1], and rescale the sizes by n, so that it records the fraction of the graph rather than the number of vertices. So we set consider the rescaling $\frac{1}{n}S_{nt}$.

It is straightforward to use the distribution of S_t we deduce that the asymptotic mean $\mathbb{E}\frac{1}{n}S_{nt}=\mu_t = 1-t-e^{-\lambda t}$.

Now we are in a position to provide more concrete motivation for the claim that the proportion of vertices in the giant component is $\zeta_\lambda$, the survival probability of a branching process with $\text{Po}(\lambda)$ offspring distribution. It helps to consider instead the extinction probability $1-\zeta_\lambda$. We have:

$1-\zeta_\lambda=\sum_{k\geq 0}\mathbb{P}(\text{Po}(\lambda)=k)(1-\zeta_\lambda)^k=e^{-\lambda\zeta_\lambda},$

where the second equality is a consequence of the simple form for the moment generating function of the Poisson distribution.

As a result, we have that $\mu_{\zeta_\lambda}=0$. In fact we also have a central limit theorem for S_t, which enables us to deduce that $\frac{1}{n}S_{n\zeta_\lambda}=0$ with high probability, as well as in expectation, which is precisely what is required to prove that the giant component of $G(n,\frac{\lambda}{n})$ has size $n(\zeta_\lambda+o(1))$.

# The Inspection Paradox and related topics

In the final class for Applied Probability, we discussed the so-called Inspection Paradox for an arrivals process. We assume that buses, sat, arrive as a Poisson process with rate 1, and consider the size of the interval (between buses) containing some fixed time T. The ‘paradox’ is that the size of this interval is larger in expectation than the average time between buses, which of course is given by an exponential random variable.

As with many paradoxes, it isn’t really that surprising after all. Perhaps what is more surprising is that the difference between the expected observed interval and the expected actual interval time is quite small here. There are several points of interest:

1) The Markov property of the Poisson process is key. In particular, this says that the expectation (and indeed the distribution) of the waiting time for a given customer arriving at T is not dependent on T, even if T is a random variable (or rather, a class of random variables, the stopping times). So certainly the inspection paradox property will hold whenever the process has the Markov property, because the inspected interval contains the inspected waiting time, which is equal in distribution to any fixed interval.

2) Everything gets slightly complicated by the fact that the Poisson process is defined to begin at 0. In particular, it is not reversible. Under the infinitesimal (or even the independent Poisson increments) definition, we can view the Poisson process not as a random non-decreasing function of time, but rather as a random collection of points on the positive reals. With this setup, it is clearly no problem to define instead a random collection of points on all the reals. [If we consider this instead as a random collection of point masses, then this is one of the simplest examples of a random measure, but that’s not hugely relevant here.]

We don’t need to worry too much about what value the Poisson process takes at any given time if we are only looking at increments, but if it makes you more comfortable, you can still safely assume that it is 0 at time 0. Crucially, the construction IS now reversible. The number of points in the interval [s,t] has distribution parameterised by t-s, so we it doesn’t matter which direction we are moving in down the real line. In this case, A_t, the time since the previous arrival, and E_t, the waiting time until the next arrival, are both Exp(1) RVs, as the memorylessness property applies in each time direction.

For the original Poisson process, we actually have A_t stochastically dominated by an Exp(1) distribution, because it is conditioned to be less than or equal to t. So in this case, the expected interval time is some complicated function of t, lying strictly between 1 and 2. In our process extended to the whole real line, the expected interval time is exactly 2.

This idea of extending onto the whole real line explains why we mainly consider delayed renewal processes rather than just normal renewal processes. The condition that we start a holding time at 0 is often not general enough, particularly when the holding times are not exponential and so the process is not memoryless.

3) There is a general size-biasing principle in action here. Roughly speaking, we are more likely to arrive in a large interval than in a small interval. The scaling required is proportional to the length of the interval. Given a density function f(x) of X, we define the size-biased density function to be xf(x). We need to normalise to give a probability distribution, and dividing by the expectation EX is precisely what is needed. Failure to account for when an observation should have the underlying distribution or the size-biased distribution is a common cause of supposed paradoxes. A common example is ‘on average my friends have more friends than I do’. Obviously, various assumption on me and my friends, and how we are drawn from the set of people (and the distribution of number of friends) is required that might not necessarily be entirely accurate in all situations.

In the Poisson process example above, the holding times have density function $e^{-x}$, so the size-biased density function if $xe^{-x}$. This corresponds to a $\Gamma(2,1)$ distribution, which may be written as the sum of two independent Exp(1) RVs as suggested above.

4) A further paradox mentioned on the sheet is the waiting time paradox. This says that the expected waiting time is longer if you arrive at a random time than if you just miss a bus. This is not too surprising: consider at least the stereotypical complaint about buses in this country arriving in threes, at least roughly. Then if you just miss a bus, there is a 2/3 chance that another will be turning up essentially immediately. On the sheet, we showed that the $\Gamma(\alpha,1)$ distribution has this property also, provided $\alpha<1$.

We can probably do slightly better than this. The memoryless property of the exponential distribution says that:

$\mathbb{P}(Z>t+s|Z>t)=\mathbb{P}(Z>s).$

In general, for the sort of holding times we might see at a bus stop, we might expect it to be the case that if we have waited a long time already, then we are less likely relatively to have to wait a long time more, that is:

$\mathbb{P}(Z>t+s|Z>t)\leq\mathbb{P}(Z>s),$

and furthermore this will be strict if neither s nor t is 0. I see no reason not to make up a definition, and call this property supermemorylessness. However, for the subclass of Gamma distributions described above, we have the opposite property:

$\mathbb{P}(Z>t+s|Z>t)\geq\mathbb{P}(Z>s).$

Accordingly, let’s call this submemorylessness. If this is strict, then it says that we are more likely to have to wait a long time if we have already been waiting a long time. This seems contrary to most real-life distributions, but it certainly explains the paradox. If we arrive at a random time, then the appropriate holding time has been ‘waiting’ for a while, so is more likely to require a longer observed wait than if I had arrived as the previous bus departed.

In conclusion, before you think of something as a paradox, think about whether the random variables being compared are being generated in the same way, in particular whether one is size-biased, and whether there are effects due to non-memorylessness.