BACKGROUND: In several studies, secondary structures of ribosomal genes have been used to improve the quality of phylogenetic reconstructions. An extensive evaluation of the benefits of secondary structure, however, is lacking. RESULTS: This is the first study to counter this deficiency. We inspected the accuracy and robustness of phylogenetics with individual secondary structures by simulation experiments for artificial tree topologies with up to 18 taxa and for divergency levels in the range of typical phylogenetic studies. We chose the internal transcribed spacer 2 of the ribosomal cistron as an exemplary marker region. Simulation integrated the coevolution process of sequences with secondary structures. Additionally, the phylogenetic power of marker size duplication was investigated and compared with sequence and sequence-structure reconstruction methods. The results clearly show that accuracy and robustness of Neighbor Joining trees are largely improved by structural information in contrast to sequence only data, whereas a doubled marker size only accounts for robustness. CONCLUSIONS: Individual secondary structures of ribosomal RNA sequences provide a valuable gain of information content that is useful for phylogenetics. Thus, the usage of ITS2 sequence together with secondary structure for taxonomic inferences is recommended. Other reconstruction methods as maximum likelihood, bayesian inference or maximum parsimony may equally profit from secondary structure inclusion. REVIEWERS: This article was reviewed by Shamil Sunyaev, Andrea Tanzer (nominated by Frank Eisenhaber) and Eugene V. Koonin. OPEN PEER REVIEW: Reviewed by Shamil Sunyaev, Andrea Tanzer (nominated by Frank Eisenhaber) and Eugene V. Koonin. For the full reviews, please go to the Reviewers' comments section.