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Mol Biol Evol. 1988 Jul;5(4):331-44.

Current versus historical population sizes in vertebrate species with high gene flow: a comparison based on mitochondrial DNA lineages and inbreeding theory for neutral mutations.

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Department of Genetics, University of Georgia, Athens 30602.


Using inbreeding theory as applied to neutral alleles inherited maternally, we generate expected probability distributions of times to identity by descent for random pairs of mitochondrial genotypes within a population or within an entire species characterized by high gene flow. For comparisons with these expectations, empirical distributions of times to most recent common ancestry were calculated (by conventional mtDNA clock calibrations) from mtDNA haplotype distances observed within each of three vertebrate species--American eels, hardhead catfish, and redwinged blackbirds. These species were chosen for analysis because census population size in each is currently large and because both genetic and life-history data are consistent with the postulate that historical gene flow within these species has been high. The observed molecular distances among mtDNA lineages were two to three orders of magnitude lower than predicted from census sizes of breeding females, suggesting that rate of mtDNA evolution is decelerated in these species and/or that long-term effective population size is vastly smaller than present-day population size. Several considerations point to the latter possibility as most likely. The genetic structure of any species is greatly influenced by historical demography; even for species that are currently abundant, mtDNA gene lineages appear to have been channeled through fairly small numbers of ancestors.

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