Pedigrees, depicting the genealogical relationships between individuals in a population, are of fundamental importance to several research areas including conservation biology. For example, they are useful for estimating inbreeding, heritability, selection, studying kin selection and for measuring gene flow between populations. Pedigrees constructed from direct observations of reproduction are usually unavailable for wild populations. Therefore, pedigrees for these populations are usually estimated using molecular marker data. Despite their obvious importance, and the fact that pedigrees are conceptually well understood, the methods, and limitations of marker-based pedigree inference are often less well understood. Here we introduce animal conservation biologists to molecular marker-based pedigrees. We briefly describe the history of pedigree inference research, before explaining the underlying theory and basic mechanics of pedigree construction using standard methods. We explain the assumptions and limitations that accompany many of these methods, before going on to explain methods that relax several of these assumptions. Finally, we look to future and discuss some recent exciting advances such as the use of single-nucleotide polymorphisms, inference of multigenerational pedigrees and incorporation of non-genetic data such as field observations into the calculations. We also provide some guidelines on efficient marker selection in order to maximize accuracy and power. Throughout we use examples from the field of animal conservation and refer readers to appropriate software where possible. It is our hope that this review will help animal conservation biologists to understand, choose, and use the methods and tools of this fast-moving field.
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