We investigate the distribution of sizes of fragments obtained from the amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) marker technique. We find that empirical distributions obtained in two plant species, Phaseolus lunatus and Lolium perenne, are consistent with the expected distributions obtained from analytical theory and from numerical simulations. Our results indicate that the size distribution is strongly asymmetrical, with a much higher proportion of small than large fragments, that it is not influenced by the number of selective nucleotides nor by genome size but that it may vary with genome-wide GC-content, with a higher proportion of small fragments in cases of lower GC-content when considering the standard AFLP protocol with the enzyme MseI. Results from population samples of the two plant species show that there is a negative relationship between AFLP fragment size and fragment population frequency. Monte Carlo simulations reveal that size homoplasy, arising from pulling together nonhomologous fragments of the same size, generates patterns similar to those observed in P. lunatus and L. perenne because of the asymmetry of the size distribution. We discuss the implications of these results in the context of estimating genetic diversity with AFLP markers.
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