Using Ancient DNA and Coalescent-Based Methods to Infer Extinction

Biol Lett. 2016 Feb;12(2):20150822. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2015.0822.


DNA sequences extracted from preserved remains can add considerable resolution to inference of past population dynamics. For example, coalescent-based methods have been used to correlate declines in some arctic megafauna populations with habitat fragmentation during the last ice age. These methods, however, often fail to detect population declines preceding extinction, most likely owing to a combination of sparse sampling, uninformative genetic markers, and models that cannot account for the increasingly structured nature of populations as habitats decline. As ancient DNA research expands to include full-genome analyses, these data will provide greater resolution of the genomic consequences of environmental change and the genetic signatures of extinction.

Keywords: ancient DNA; coalescent; demography; extinction; megafauna.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • DNA / analysis*
  • Extinction, Biological*
  • Fossils
  • Genome*
  • Invertebrates / genetics
  • Plants / genetics
  • Population Dynamics
  • Vertebrates / genetics


  • DNA