Continuous progress in empirical population genetics based on the whole-genome polymorphism data requires the theoretical analysis of refined models in order to interpret the evolutionary history of populations with adequate accuracy. Recent studies focus prevalently on the aspects of demography and adaptation, whereas age structure (for example, in plants via the maintenance of seed banks) has attracted less attention. Germ banking, that is, seed or egg dormancy, is a prevalent and important life-history trait in plants and invertebrates, which buffers against environmental variability and modulates species extinction in fragmented habitats. Within this study, we investigate the combined effect of germ banking and time-varying population size on the neutral coalescent and particularly derive the allele frequency spectrum under some simplifying assumptions. We then perform an ABC analysis using two simple demographic scenarios-a population expansion and an instantaneous decline. We demonstrate the appreciable influence of seed banks on the estimation of demographic parameters depending on the germination rate with biases scaled by the square of the germination rate. In the more complex case of a population bottleneck, which comprises an instantaneous decline and an expansion phase, ignoring information on the germination rate denies reliable estimates of the bottleneck parameters via the allelic spectrum. In particular, when seeds remain in the bank over several generations, recent expansions may remain invisible in the frequency spectrum, whereas ancient declines leave signatures much longer than in the absence of seed bank.
© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.