Testing marker-based estimates of heritability in the wild


David W. Coltman, Fax: 780 492–9234; E-mail: david.coltman@ualberta.ca


Marker-based estimates of heritability are an attractive alternative to pedigree-based methods for estimating quantitative genetic parameters in field studies where it is difficult or impossible to determine relationships and pedigrees. Here I test the ability of the marker-based method to estimate heritability of a suite of traits in a wild population of bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) using marker data from 32 microsatellite loci. I compared marker-based estimates with estimates obtained using a pedigree and the animal model. Marker-based estimates of heritability were imprecise and downwardly biased. The high degree of uncertainty in marker-based estimates suggests that the method may be sufficient to detect the presence of genetic variance for highly heritable traits, but not sufficiently reliable to estimate genetic parameters.