Indirect measures of gene flow and migration: FST not equal to 1/(4Nm + 1)

Heredity (Edinb). 1999 Feb;82 ( Pt 2):117-25. doi: 10.1038/sj.hdy.6884960.


The difficulty of directly measuring gene flow has lead to the common use of indirect measures extrapolated from genetic frequency data. These measures are variants of FST, a standardized measure of the genetic variance among populations, and are used to solve for Nm, the number of migrants successfully entering a population per generation. Unfortunately, the mathematical model underlying this translation makes many biologically unrealistic assumptions; real populations are very likely to violate these assumptions, such that there is often limited quantitative information to be gained about dispersal from using gene frequency data. While studies of genetic structure per se are often worthwhile, and FST is an excellent measure of the extent of this population structure, it is rare that FST can be translated into an accurate estimate of Nm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Emigration and Immigration*
  • Gene Frequency
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Population Dynamics*
  • Time Factors