On the number of New World founders: a population genetic portrait of the peopling of the Americas

PLoS Biol. 2005 Jun;3(6):e193. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0030193. Epub 2005 May 24.


The founding of New World populations by Asian peoples is the focus of considerable archaeological and genetic research, and there persist important questions on when and how these events occurred. Genetic data offer great potential for the study of human population history, but there are significant challenges in discerning distinct demographic processes. A new method for the study of diverging populations was applied to questions on the founding and history of Amerind-speaking Native American populations. The model permits estimation of founding population sizes, changes in population size, time of population formation, and gene flow. Analyses of data from nine loci are consistent with the general portrait that has emerged from archaeological and other kinds of evidence. The estimated effective size of the founding population for the New World is fewer than 80 individuals, approximately 1% of the effective size of the estimated ancestral Asian population. By adding a splitting parameter to population divergence models it becomes possible to develop detailed portraits of human demographic history. Analyses of Asian and New World data support a model of a recent founding of the New World by a population of quite small effective size.

MeSH terms

  • Asia / ethnology
  • Continental Population Groups / genetics*
  • Demography
  • Ethnic Groups / genetics*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genetics, Medical*
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American / genetics
  • Models, Genetic
  • North America
  • Population Density
  • South America