A comparison of four methods for detecting weak genetic structure from marker data
Ecology and Evolution, 2:5, 1048–1055 (2012)
Genetic structure is ubiquitous in wild populations and is the result of the processes of natural selection, genetic drift, and gene flow. Genetic drift and divergent selection promotes the generation of genetic structure, while gene flow homogenizes the subpopulations. The ability to detect genetic structure from marker data diminishes rapidly with a decreasing level of differentiation among subpopulations. Weak genetic structure may be unimportant genetically but could have important implications in ecology and conservation biology. In this paper we examine methods for detecting and quantifying weak genetic structures using simulated data. We simulated populations consisting of two putative subpopulations evolving for up to 50 generations with varying degrees of gene flow (migration), and varying amounts of information (number of loci and allelic diversity). There are a number of techniques available to detect and quantify genetic structure but here we concentrate on four methods: FST, population assignment, relatedness, and sibship assignment. Under the simple mating system simulated here, the method used to detect genetic structure is not particularly important: all four methods produce similar results. However, the assignment method performed relatively poorly when genetic structure was weak and we therefore caution against using this method when the analytical aim is to detect fine-scale patterns. Further work should examine situations with different mating systems, for example where a few individuals dominate reproductive output of the population. This study will help workers to design their experiments (e.g. sample sizes of markers and individuals), and to decide which methods are likely to be most appropriate for their particular data.