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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A simple method for estimating genetic diversity in large populations from finite sample sizes

Stanislav Bashalkhanov, Madhav Pandey and Om P Rajora*

Author Affiliations

Canada Research Chair in Forest and Conservation Genomics and Biotechnology, Canadian Genomics and Conservation Genetics Institute, University of New Brunswick, Faculty of Forestry and Environmental Management, 28 Dineen Drive, Fredericton, NB, E3B 6C2, Canada

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BMC Genetics 2009, 10:84  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-10-84

Published: 16 December 2009

Abstract

Background

Sample size is one of the critical factors affecting the accuracy of the estimation of population genetic diversity parameters. Small sample sizes often lead to significant errors in determining the allelic richness, which is one of the most important and commonly used estimators of genetic diversity in populations. Correct estimation of allelic richness in natural populations is challenging since they often do not conform to model assumptions. Here, we introduce a simple and robust approach to estimate the genetic diversity in large natural populations based on the empirical data for finite sample sizes.

Results

We developed a non-linear regression model to infer genetic diversity estimates in large natural populations from finite sample sizes. The allelic richness values predicted by our model were in good agreement with those observed in the simulated data sets and the true allelic richness observed in the source populations. The model has been validated using simulated population genetic data sets with different evolutionary scenarios implied in the simulated populations, as well as large microsatellite and allozyme experimental data sets for four conifer species with contrasting patterns of inherent genetic diversity and mating systems. Our model was a better predictor for allelic richness in natural populations than the widely-used Ewens sampling formula, coalescent approach, and rarefaction algorithm.

Conclusions

Our regression model was capable of accurately estimating allelic richness in natural populations regardless of the species and marker system. This regression modeling approach is free from assumptions and can be widely used for population genetic and conservation applications.