Effects of English admixture and geographic distance on anthropometric variation and genetic structure in 19th-century Ireland

Authors

  • John H. Relethford

    1. Department of Anthropology, State University of New York College at Oneonta, Oneonta, New York 13820
    2. Department of Anthropology, State University of New York at Albany, Albany, New York 12222
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Abstract

The analysis of anthropometric data often allows investigation of patterns of genetic structure in historical populations. This paper focuses on interpopulational anthropometric variation in seven populations in Ireland using data collected in the 1890s. The seven populations were located within a 120-km range along the west coast of Ireland and include islands and mainland isolates. Two of the populations (the Aran Islands and Inishbofin) have a known history of English admixture in earlier centuries. Ten anthropometric measures (head length, breadth, and height; nose length and breadth; bizygomatic and bigonial breadth; stature; hand length; and forearm length) on 259 adult Irish males were analyzed following age adjustment. Discriminant and canonical variates analysis were used to determine the degree and pattern of among-group variation. Mahalanobis' distance measure, D2, was computed between each pair of populations and compared to distance measures based on geographic distance and English admixture (a binary measure indicating whether either of a pair of populations had historical indications of admixture). In addition, surname frequencies were used to construct distance measures based on random isonymy. Correlations were computed between distance measures, and their probabilities were derived using the Mantel matrix permutation method.

English admixture has the greatest effect on anthropometric variation among these populations, followed by geographic distance. The correlation between anthropometric distance and geographic distance is not significant (r = –0.081, P = .590), but the correlation of admixture and anthropometric distance is significant (r = 0.829, P = .047). When the two admixed populations are removed from the analysis the correlation between geographic and anthropometric distance becomes significant (r = 0.718, P = .025). Isonymy distance shows a significant correlation with geographic distance (r = 0.425, P = .046) but not with admixture distance (r = –0.052, P = .524). The fact that anthropometrics show past patterns of gene flow and surnames do not reflects the greater impact of stochastic processes on surnames, along with the continued extinction of surnames. This study shows that 1) anthropometrics can be extremely useful in assessing population structure and history, 2) differential gene flow into populations can have a major impact on local genetic structure, and 3) microevolutionary processes can have different effects on biological characters and surnames.

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