Background: Much of the data resolution of the haploid non-recombining Y chromosome (NRY) haplogroup O in East Asia are still rudimentary and could be an explanatory factor for current debates on the settlement history of Island Southeast Asia (ISEA). Here, 81 slowly evolving markers (mostly SNPs) and 17 Y-chromosomal short tandem repeats were used to achieve higher level molecular resolution. Our aim is to investigate if the distribution of NRY DNA variation in Taiwan and ISEA is consistent with a single pre-Neolithic expansion scenario from Southeast China to all ISEA, or if it better fits an expansion model from Taiwan (the OOT model), or whether a more complex history of settlement and dispersals throughout ISEA should be envisioned.
Results: We examined DNA samples from 1658 individuals from Vietnam, Thailand, Fujian, Taiwan (Han, plain tribes and 14 indigenous groups), the Philippines and Indonesia. While haplogroups O1a*-M119, O1a1*-P203, O1a2-M50 and O3a2-P201 follow a decreasing cline from Taiwan towards Western Indonesia, O2a1-M95/M88, O3a*-M324, O3a1c-IMS-JST002611 and O3a2c1a-M133 decline northward from Western Indonesia towards Taiwan. Compared to the Taiwan plain tribe minority groups the Taiwanese Austronesian speaking groups show little genetic paternal contribution from Han. They are also characterized by low Y-chromosome diversity, thus testifying for fast drift in these populations. However, in contrast to data provided from other regions of the genome, Y-chromosome gene diversity in Taiwan mountain tribes significantly increases from North to South.
Conclusion: The geographic distribution and the diversity accumulated in the O1a*-M119, O1a1*-P203, O1a2-M50 and O3a2-P201 haplogroups on one hand, and in the O2a1-M95/M88, O3a*-M324, O3a1c-IMS-JST002611 and O3a2c1a-M133 haplogroups on the other, support a pincer model of dispersals and gene flow from the mainland to the islands which likely started during the late upper Paleolithic, 18,000 to 15,000 years ago. The branches of the pincer contributed separately to the paternal gene pool of the Philippines and conjointly to the gene pools of Madagascar and the Solomon Islands. The North to South increase in diversity found for Taiwanese Austronesian speaking groups contrasts with observations based on mitochondrial DNA, thus hinting to a differentiated demographic history of men and women in these populations.