Estimating effective paternity number in social insects and the effective number of alleles in a population


R. Neilsen. Fax: (607) 255–4698; E-mail:

Present address: Department of Entomology, Campus Box 7613, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27495–7613, USA.


Estimating paternity and genetic relatedness is central to many empirical and theoretical studies of social insects. The two important measures of a queen's mating number are her actual number of mates and her effective number of mates. Estimating the effective number of mates is mathematically identical to the problem of estimating the effective number of alleles in population genetics, a common measure of genetic variability introduced by Kimura & Crow (1964). We derive a new bias-corrected estimator of effective number of types (mates or alleles) and compare this new method to previous methods for estimating true and effective numbers of types using Monte Carlo simulations. Our simulation results suggest that the examined estimators of the true number of types have very similar statistical properties, whereas the estimators of effective number of types have quite different statistical properties. Moreover, our new proposed estimator of effective number of types is approximately unbiased, and has considerably lower variance than the original estimator. Our new method will help researchers more accurately estimate intracolony genetic relatedness of social insects, which is an important measure in understanding their ecology and social behaviour. It should also be of use in population genetic studies in which the effective number of alleles is of interest.