Marker-inferred relatedness as a tool for detecting heritability in nature


  • Kermit Ritland

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Forest Sciences and, The Center for Applied Conservation Biology, Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4 Canada
      K. Ritland. Fax: +604–822–9102;
    Search for more papers by this author

K. Ritland. Fax: +604–822–9102;


This paper presents a perspective of how inferred relatedness, based on genetic marker data such as microsatellites or amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs), can be used to demonstrate quantitative genetic variation in natural populations. Variation at two levels is considered: among pairs of individuals within populations, and among pairs of subpopulations within a population. In the former, inferred pairwise relatedness, combined with trait measures, allow estimates of heritability ‘in the wild’. In the latter, estimates of QST are obtained, in the absence of known heritabilities, via estimates of pairwise FST. Estimators of relatedness based on the ‘Kronecker operator’ are given. Both methods require actual variation of relationship, a rarely studied aspect of population structure, and not necessarily present. Some conditions for appropriate population structures in the wild are identified, in part through a review of recent studies.