• bowhead whales;
  • error rates;
  • Hardy–Weinberg;
  • microsatellite;
  • population structure


Microsatellite genotyping from samples with varying quality can result in an uneven distribution of errors. Previous studies reporting error rates have focused on estimating the effects of both randomly distributed and locus-specific errors. Sample-specific errors, however, can also significantly affect results in population studies despite a large sample size. From two studies including six microsatellite markers genotyped from 272 sperm whale DNA samples, and 33 microsatellites genotyped from 213 bowhead whales, we investigated the effects of sample- and locus-specific errors on calculations of Hardy–Weinberg equilibrium. The results of a jackknife analysis in these two studies identified seven individuals that were highly influential on estimates of Hardy–Weinberg equilibrium for six different markers. In each case, the influential individual was homozygous for a rare allele. Our results demonstrate that Hardy–Weinberg P values are very sensitive to homozygosity in rare alleles for single individuals, and that > 50% of these cases involved genotype errors likely due to low sample quality. This raises the possibility that even small, normal levels of laboratory errors can result in an overestimate of the degree to which markers are out of Hardy–Weinberg equilibrium and hence overestimate population structure. To avoid such bias, we recommend routine identification of influential individuals and multiple replications of those samples.