Identifying adaptive genetic divergence among populations from genome scans


Mark Beaumont. Fax: 0118 931 0180; E-mail:


The identification of signatures of natural selection in genomic surveys has become an area of intense research, stimulated by the increasing ease with which genetic markers can be typed. Loci identified as subject to selection may be functionally important, and hence (weak) candidates for involvement in disease causation. They can also be useful in determining the adaptive differentiation of populations, and exploring hypotheses about speciation. Adaptive differentiation has traditionally been identified from differences in allele frequencies among different populations, summarised by an estimate of FST. Low outliers relative to an appropriate neutral population-genetics model indicate loci subject to balancing selection, whereas high outliers suggest adaptive (directional) selection. However, the problem of identifying statistically significant departures from neutrality is complicated by confounding effects on the distribution of FST estimates, and current methods have not yet been tested in large-scale simulation experiments. Here, we simulate data from a structured population at many unlinked, diallelic loci that are predominantly neutral but with some loci subject to adaptive or balancing selection. We develop a hierarchical-Bayesian method, implemented via Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC), and assess its performance in distinguishing the loci simulated under selection from the neutral loci. We also compare this performance with that of a frequentist method, based on moment-based estimates of FST. We find that both methods can identify loci subject to adaptive selection when the selection coefficient is at least five times the migration rate. Neither method could reliably distinguish loci under balancing selection in our simulations, even when the selection coefficient is twenty times the migration rate.