Inferring sex-specific demographic history from SNP data

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© 2018 Clemente et al. The relative female and male contributions to demography are of great importance to better understand the history and dynamics of populations. While earlier studies relied on uniparental markers to investigate sex-specific questions, the increasing amount of sequence data now enables us to take advantage of tens to hundreds of thousands of independent loci from autosomes and the X chromosome. Here, we develop a novel method to estimate effective sex ratios or ESR (defined as the female proportion of the effective population) from allele count data for each branch of a rooted tree topology that summarizes the history of the populations of interest. Our method relies on Kimura’s time-dependent diffusion approximation for genetic drift, and is based on a hierarchical Bayesian model to integrate over the allele frequencies along the branches. We show via simulations that parameters are inferred robustly, even under scenarios that violate some of the model assumptions. Analyzing bovine SNP data, we infer a strongly female-biased ESR in both dairy and beef cattle, as expected from the underlying breeding scheme. Conversely, we observe a strongly male-biased ESR in early domestication times, consistent with an easier taming and management of cows, and/or introgression from wild auroch males, that would both cause a relative increase in male effective population size. In humans, analyzing a subsample of non-African populations, we find a male-biased ESR in Oceanians that may reflect complex marriage patterns in Aboriginal Australians. Because our approach relies on allele count data, it may be applied on a wide range of species.




Clemente, F., Gautier, M., & Vitalis, R. (2018). Inferring sex-specific demographic history from SNP data. PLoS Genetics, 14(1).

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