• Open Access

Effective/census population size ratio estimation: a compendium and appraisal


  • DJF was supported by NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) Discovery Grant.


Friso P. Palstra, CNRS UMR 7206 Eco-anthropologie et Ethnobiologie, Equipe “Génétique des populations humaines”, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, CP 139, 57 rue Cuvier, F-75231 Paris Cedex 05, France; Tel: +(33) 1 40 79 46 22; Fax: +(33) 1 40 79 32 31; E-mail: palstra@mnhn.fr


With an ecological-evolutionary perspective increasingly applied toward the conservation and management of endangered or exploited species, the genetic estimation of effective population size (N e) has proliferated. Based on a comprehensive analysis of empirical literature from the past two decades, we asked: (i) how often do studies link N e to the adult census population size (N)? (ii) To what extent is N e correctly linked to N? (iii) How readily is uncertainty accounted for in both N e and N when quantifying N e/N ratios? and (iv) how frequently and to what degree might errors in the estimation of N e or N affect inferences of N e/N ratios? We found that only 20% of available N e estimates (508 of 2617; 233 studies) explicitly attempted to link N e and N; of these, only 31% (160 of 508) correctly linked N e and N. Moreover, only 7% (41 of 508) of N e/N ratios (correctly linked or not) reported confidence intervals for both N e and N; for those cases where confidence intervals were reported for N e only, 31% of N e/N ratios overlapped with 1, of which more than half also reached below N e/N = 0.01. Uncertainty in N e /N ratios thus sometimes spanned at least two orders of magnitude. We conclude that the estimation of N e/N ratios in natural populations could be significantly improved, discuss several options for doing so, and briefly outline some future research directions.