Genetical Research

Research Article

Estimating effective population size from samples of sequences: a bootstrap Monte Carlo integration method

Joseph Felsensteina1*

a1 Department of Genetics SK-50, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA


We would like to use maximum likelihood to estimate parameters such as the effective population size Ne, or, if we do not know mutation rates, the product 4Neμof mutation rate per site and effective population size. To compute the likelihood for a sample of unrecombined nucleotide sequences taken from a random-mating population it is necessary to sum over all genealogies that could have led to the sequences, computing for each one the probability that it would have yielded the sequences, and weighting each one by its prior probability. The genealogies vary in tree topology and in branch lengths. Although the likelihood and the prior are straightforward to compute, the summation over all genealogies seems at first sight hopelessly difficult. This paper reports that it is possible to carry out a Monte Carlo integration to evaluate the likelihoods pproximately. The method uses bootstrap sampling of sites to create data sets for each of which a maximum likelihood tree is estimated. The resulting trees are assumed to be sampled from a distribution whose height is proportional to the likelihood surface for the full data. That it will be so is dependent on a theorem which is not proven, but seems likely to be true if the sequences are not short. One can use the resulting estimated likelihood curve to make a maximum likelihood estimate of the parameter of interest, Ne or of 4Neμ. The method requires at least 100 times the computational effort required for estimation of a phylogeny by maximum likelihood, but is practical on today's work stations. The method does not at present have any way of dealing with recombination.

(Received February 19 1992)

(Revised May 26 1992)


* Electronic mail address: