• Electromorph;
  • homoplasy;
  • microsatellites;
  • mutation models;
  • population genetics


Homoplasy has recently attracted the attention of population geneticists, as a consequence of the popularity of highly variable stepwise mutating markers such as microsatellites. Microsatellite alleles generally refer to DNA fragments of different size (electromorphs). Electromorphs are identical in state (i.e. have identical size), but are not necessarily identical by descent due to convergent mutation(s). Homoplasy occurring at microsatellites is thus referred to as size homoplasy. Using new analytical developments and computer simulations, we first evaluate the effect of the mutation rate, the mutation model, the effective population size and the time of divergence between populations on size homoplasy at the within and between population levels. We then review the few experimental studies that used various molecular techniques to detect size homoplasious events at some microsatellite loci. The relationship between this molecularly accessible size homoplasy size and the actual amount of size homoplasy is not trivial, the former being considerably influenced by the molecular structure of microsatellite core sequences. In a third section, we show that homoplasy at microsatellite electromorphs does not represent a significant problem for many types of population genetics analyses realized by molecular ecologists, the large amount of variability at microsatellite loci often compensating for their homoplasious evolution. The situations where size homoplasy may be more problematic involve high mutation rates and large population sizes together with strong allele size constraints.