Linkage disequilibrium and effective population size when generations overlap

Evol Appl. 2013 Feb;6(2):290-302. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-4571.2012.00289.x. Epub 2012 Aug 8.


Estimates of effective population size are critical for species of conservation concern. Genetic datasets can be used to provide robust estimates of this important parameter. However, the methods used to obtain these estimates assume that generations are discrete. We used simulated data to assess the influences of overlapping generations on the estimates of effective size provided by the linkage disequilibrium (LD) method. Our simulations focus on two factors: the degree of reproductive skew exhibited by the focal species and the generation time, without considering sample size or the level of polymorphism at marker loci. In situations where a majority of reproduction is achieved by a small fraction of the population, the effective number of breeders can be much smaller than the per-generation effective population size. The LD in samples of newborns can provide estimates of the former size, while our results indicate that the latter size is best estimated using random samples of reproductively mature adults. Using samples of adults, the downwards bias was less than approximately 15% across our simulated life histories. As noted in previous assessments, precision of the estimate depends on the magnitude of effective size itself, with greater precision achieved for small populations.

Keywords: LDNe; Nb; Ne; SPIP; age structure; computer simulations; effective number of breeders; microsatellites.