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Mol Biol Evol. 1992 May;9(3):552-69.

Population growth makes waves in the distribution of pairwise genetic differences.

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  • 1Department of Anthropology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City 84112.


Episodes of population growth and decline leave characteristic signatures in the distribution of nucleotide (or restriction) site differences between pairs of individuals. These signatures appear in histograms showing the relative frequencies of pairs of individuals who differ by i sites, where i = 0, 1, .... In this distribution an episode of growth generates a wave that travels to the right, traversing 1 unit of the horizontal axis in each 1/2u generations, where u is the mutation rate. The smaller the initial population, the steeper will be the leading face of the wave. The larger the increase in population size, the smaller will be the distribution's vertical intercept. The implications of continued exponential growth are indistinguishable from those of a sudden burst of population growth Bottlenecks in population size also generate waves similar to those produced by a sudden expansion, but with elevated uppertail probabilities. Reductions in population size initially generate L-shaped distributions with high probability of identity, but these converge rapidly to a new equilibrium. In equilibrium populations the theoretical curves are free of waves. However, computer simulations of such populations generate empirical distributions with many peaks and little resemblance to the theory. On the other hand, agreement is better in the transient (nonequilibrium) case, where simulated empirical distributions typically exhibit waves very similar to those predicted by theory. Thus, waves in empirical distributions may be rich in information about the history of population dynamics.

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