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J Evol Biol. 2007 Nov;20(6):2309-21.

A framework for power and sensitivity analyses for quantitative genetic studies of natural populations, and case studies in Soay sheep (Ovis aries).

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  • 1Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada.


Studies of the quantitative genetics of natural populations have contributed greatly to evolutionary biology in recent years. However, while pedigree data required are often uncertain (i.e. incomplete and partly erroneous) and limited, means to evaluate the effects of such uncertainties have not been developed. We have therefore developed a general framework for power and sensitivity analyses of such studies. We propose that researchers first generate a set of pedigree data that they wish to use in a quantitative genetic study, as well as data regarding errors that occur in that pedigree. This pedigree is then permuted using the data regarding errors to generate hypothetical 'true' and 'assumed' pedigrees that differ so as to mimic pedigree errors that might occur in the study system under consideration. Phenotypic data are then simulated across the true pedigree (according to user-defined genetic and environmental covariance structures), before being analysed with standard quantitative genetic techniques in conjunction with the 'assumed' pedigree data. To illustrate this approach, we conducted power and sensitivity analyses in a well-known study of Soay sheep (Ovis aries). We found that, although the estimation of simple genetic (co)variance structures is fairly robust to pedigree errors, some potentially serious biases were detected under more complex scenarios involving maternal effects. Power analyses also showed that this study system provides high power to detect heritabilities as low as about 0.09. Given this range of results, we suggest that such power and sensitivity analyses could greatly complement empirical studies, and we provide the computer program PEDANTICS to aid in their application.

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