Estimating quantitative genetic parameters in wild populations: A comparison of pedigree and genomic approaches

Camillo Bérénos, Philip A Ellis, Jill G Pilkington, Josephine M Pemberton

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The estimation of quantitative genetic parameters in wild populations is generally limited by the accuracy and completeness of the available pedigree information. Using relatedness at genome-wide markers can potentially remove this limitation and lead to less biased and more precise estimates. We estimated heritability, maternal genetic effects and genetic correlations for body size traits in an unmanaged long-term study population of Soay sheep on St Kilda using three increasingly complete and accurate estimates of relatedness: (1) Pedigree 1, using observation-derived maternal links and microsatellite-derived paternal links; (2) Pedigree 2, using SNP-derived assignment of both maternity and paternity; and (3) whole-genome relatedness at 37,037 autosomal SNPs. In initial analyses, heritability estimates were strikingly similar for all three methods while standard errors were systematically lower in analyses based on Pedigree 2 and genomic relatedness. Genetic correlations were generally strong, differed little between the three estimates of relatedness and the standard errors declined only very slightly with improved relatedness information. When partitioning maternal effects into separate genetic and environmental components, maternal genetic effects found in juvenile traits increased substantially across the three relatedness estimates. Heritability declined compared to parallel models where only a maternal environment effect was fitted, suggesting that maternal genetic effects are confounded with direct genetic effects and that more accurate estimates of relatedness were better able to separate maternal genetic effects from direct genetic effects. We found that the heritability captured by SNP markers asymptoted at about half the SNPs available, suggesting that denser marker panels are not necessarily required for precise and unbiased heritability estimates. Finally, we present guidelines for the use of genomic relatedness in future quantitative genetics studies in natural populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3434–3451
Number of pages18
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jun 2014


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