Moments, cumulants, and polygenic dynamics

J Math Biol. 1991;30(2):199-213. doi: 10.1007/BF00160336.


A new approach for describing the evolution of polygenic traits subject to selection and mutation is presented. Differential equations for the change of cumulants of the allelic frequency distribution at a particular locus and for the cumulants of the distributions of genotypic and phenotypic values are derived. The derivation is based on the assumptions of random mating, no sex differences, absence of random drift, additive gene action, linkage equilibrium, and Hardy-Weinberg proportions. Cumulants are a set of parameters that, like moments, describe the shape of a probability density. Compared with moments, however, they have properties that make them a much more convenient tool for investigating polygenic traits. Applications to directional and stabilizing selection are given.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Gene Frequency
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Mathematics
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*
  • Selection, Genetic