Social Network Analysis of the Genetic Structure of Pacific Islanders


Corresponding author: John Edward Terrell, Department of Anthropology, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Illinois, United States of America. Fax: 312-665-7193; E-mail:


Social network analysis (SNA) is a body of theory and a set of relatively new computer-aided techniques used in the analysis and study of relational data. Recent studies of autosomal markers from over 40 human populations in the south-western Pacific have further documented the remarkable degree of genetic diversity in this part of the world. I report additional analysis using SNA methods contributing new controlled observations on the structuring of genetic diversity among these islanders. These SNA mappings are then compared with model-based network expectations derived from the geographic distances among the same populations. Previous studies found that genetic divergence among island Melanesian populations is organised by island, island size/topography, and position (coastal vs. inland), and that similarities observed correlate only weakly with an isolation-by-distance model. Using SNA methods, however, improves the resolution of among population comparison, and suggests that isolation by distance constrained by social networks together with position (coastal/inland) accounts for much of the population structuring observed. The multilocus data now available is also in accord with current thinking on the impact of major biogeographical transformations on prehistoric colonisation and post-settlement human interaction in Oceania.