Overestimation of the adaptive substitution rate in fluctuating populations

Biol Lett. 2018 May;14(5):20180055. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2018.0055.


Estimating the proportion of adaptive substitutions (α) is of primary importance to uncover the determinants of adaptation in comparative genomic studies. Several methods have been proposed to estimate α from patterns polymorphism and divergence in coding sequences. However, estimators of α can be biased when the underlying assumptions are not met. Here we focus on a potential source of bias, i.e. variation through time in the long-term population size (N) of the considered species. We show via simulations that ancient demographic fluctuations can generate severe overestimations of α, and this is irrespective of the recent population history.

Keywords: coding sequence evolution; effective population size; fitness effect of mutations; molecular adaptation; simulations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / genetics*
  • Climate
  • Computer Simulation
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genome
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutation Rate
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Population Density*

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.4084511
  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.85qb2r1