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Background: The selection of variable sites for inclusion in genomic analyses can influence results, especially when exemplar populations are used to determine polymorphic sites. We tested the impact of ascertainment bias on the inference of population genetic parameters using empirical and simulated data representing the three major continental groups of cattle: European, African, and Indian. We simulated data under three demographic models. Each simulated data set was subjected to three ascertainment schemes: (I) random selection; (II) geographically biased selection; and (III) selection biased toward loci polymorphic in multiple groups. Empirical data comprised samples of 25 individuals representing each continental group. These cattle were genotyped for 47,506 loci from the bovine 50 K SNP panel. We compared the inference of population histories for the empirical and simulated data sets across different ascertainment conditions using FST and principal components analysis (PCA). Results: Bias toward shared polymorphism across continental groups is apparent in the empirical SNP data. Bias toward uneven levels of within-group polymorphism decreases estimates of FST between groups. Subpopulation-biased selection of SNPs changes the weighting of principal component axes and can affect inferences about proportions of admixture and population histories using PCA. PCA-based inferences of population relationships are largely congruent across types of ascertainment bias, even when ascertainment bias is strong. Conclusions: Analyses of ascertainment bias in genomic data have largely been conducted on human data. As genomic analyses are being applied to non-model organisms, and across taxa with deeper divergences, care must be taken to consider the potential for bias in ascertainment of variation to affect inferences. Estimates of FST, time of separation, and population divergence as estimated by principal components analysis can be misleading if this bias is not taken into account.
McTavish, E. J., & Hillis, D. M. (2015). How do SNP ascertainment schemes and population demographics affect inferences about population history? BMC Genomics, 16(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12864-015-1469-5