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Genetics. Dec 2002; 162(4): 1811–1823.
PMCID: PMC1462394

Likelihood and Bayes estimation of ancestral population sizes in hominoids using data from multiple loci.


Polymorphisms in an ancestral population can cause conflicts between gene trees and the species tree. Such conflicts can be used to estimate ancestral population sizes when data from multiple loci are available. In this article I extend previous work for estimating ancestral population sizes to analyze sequence data from three species under a finite-site nucleotide substitution model. Both maximum-likelihood (ML) and Bayes methods are implemented for joint estimation of the two speciation dates and the two population size parameters. Both methods account for uncertainties in the gene tree due to few informative sites at each locus and make an efficient use of information in the data. The Bayes algorithm using Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) enjoys a computational advantage over ML and also provides a framework for incorporating prior information about the parameters. The methods are applied to a data set of 53 nuclear noncoding contigs from human, chimpanzee, and gorilla published by Chen and Li. Estimates of the effective population size for the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees by both ML and Bayes methods are approximately 12,000-21,000, comparable to estimates for modern humans, and do not support the notion of a dramatic size reduction in early human populations. Estimates published previously from the same data are several times larger and appear to be biased due to methodological deficiency. The divergence between humans and chimpanzees is dated at approximately 5.2 million years ago and the gorilla divergence 1.1-1.7 million years earlier. The analysis suggests that typical data sets contain useful information about the ancestral population sizes and that it is advantageous to analyze data of several species simultaneously.

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Selected References

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