Genetic Change in the Polynesian Population of Easter Island: Evidence from Alu Insertion Polymorphisms


*Corresponding author: Prof. Pedro Moral, Unitat d'Antropologia, Facultat de Biologia. Avda. Diagonal, 645. 08028-Barcelona, Spain. Phone: +34 934 021 461; Fax: +34 934 035 740; E-mail:


The origin of Pacific islanders is still an open issue in human population genetics. To address this topic we analyzed a set of 18 Alu insertion polymorphisms in a total of 176 chromosomes from native Easter Island inhabitants (Rapanui). Available genealogical records allowed us to subdivide the total island sample into two groups, representative of the native population living in the island around 1900, and another formed by individuals with some ancestors of non-Rapanui origin. Significant genetic differentiation was found between these groups, allowing us to make some biodemographic and historical inferences about the origin and evolution of this geographically isolated island population. Our data are consistent with equivalent and recent contributions from Amerindian and European migrants to the 1900s Rapanui population, with an accelerated increase in the European gene flow during the 20th century, especially since the 1960s. Comparative analysis of our results with other available Alu variation data on neighbouring populations supports the “Voyaging Corridor” model of Polynesian human settlement, which indicates that pre-Polynesians are mainly derived from Southeast Asian and Wallacean populations rather than from Taiwan or the Philippines. This study underlines the importance of sampling and taking into account historical information in genetic studies to unravel the recent evolution of human populations.