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      Inferring Population Decline and Expansion From Microsatellite Data: A Simulation-Based Evaluation of the Msvar Method

      , , ,
      Genetics
      Genetics Society of America

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          Abstract

          Reconstructing the demographic history of populations is a central issue in evolutionary biology. Using likelihood-based methods coupled with Monte Carlo simulations, it is now possible to reconstruct past changes in population size from genetic data. Using simulated data sets under various demographic scenarios, we evaluate the statistical performance of Msvar, a full-likelihood Bayesian method that infers past demographic change from microsatellite data. Our simulation tests show that Msvar is very efficient at detecting population declines and expansions, provided the event is neither too weak nor too recent. We further show that Msvar outperforms two moment-based methods (the M-ratio test and Bottleneck) for detecting population size changes, whatever the time and the severity of the event. The same trend emerges from a compilation of empirical studies. The latest version of Msvar provides estimates of the current and the ancestral population size and the time since the population started changing in size. We show that, in the absence of prior knowledge, Msvar provides little information on the mutation rate, which results in biased estimates and/or wide credibility intervals for each of the demographic parameters. However, scaling the population size parameters with the mutation rate and scaling the time with current population size, as coalescent theory requires, significantly improves the quality of the estimates for contraction but not for expansion scenarios. Finally, our results suggest that Msvar is robust to moderate departures from a strict stepwise mutation model.

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              Detection of reduction in population size using data from microsatellite loci.

              We demonstrate that the mean ratio of the number of alleles to the range in allele size, which we term M, calculated from a population sample of microsatellite loci, can be used to detect reductions in population size. Using simulations, we show that, for a general class of mutation models, the value of M decreases when a population is reduced in size. The magnitude of the decrease is positively correlated with the severity and duration of the reduction in size. We also find that the rate of recovery of M following a reduction in size is positively correlated with post-reduction population size, but that recovery occurs in both small and large populations. This indicates that M can distinguish between populations that have been recently reduced in size and those which have been small for a long time. We employ M to develop a statistical test for recent reductions in population size that can detect such changes for more than 100 generations with the post-reduction demographic scenarios we examine. We also compute M for a variety of populations and species using microsatellite data collected from the literature. We find that the value of M consistently predicts the reported demographic history for these populations. This method, and others like it, promises to be an important tool for the conservation and management of populations that are in need of intervention or recovery.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Genetics
                Genetics
                Genetics Society of America
                0016-6731
                1943-2631
                May 05 2011
                May 2011
                May 2011
                March 08 2011
                : 188
                : 1
                : 165-179
                Article
                10.1534/genetics.110.121764
                3120153
                21385729
                e40180f9-936d-42ad-a768-fc2886552a6c
                © 2011
                History

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