Bayesian parentage analysis reliably controls the number of false assignments in natural populations

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Abstract

Parentage analysis in natural populations is a powerful tool for addressing a wide range of ecological and evolutionary questions. However, identifying parent–offspring pairs in samples collected from natural populations is often more challenging than simply resolving the Mendelian pattern of shared alleles. For example, large numbers of pairwise comparisons and limited numbers of genetic markers can contribute to incorrect assignments, whereby unrelated individuals are falsely identified as parent–offspring pairs. Determining which parentage methods are the least susceptible to making false assignments is an important challenge facing molecular ecologists. In a recent paper, Harrison et al. (2013a) address this challenge by comparing three commonly used parentage methods, including a Bayesian approach, in order to explore the effects of varied proportions of sampled parents on the accuracy of parentage assignments. Unfortunately, Harrison et al. made a simple error in using the Bayesian approach, which led them to incorrectly conclude that this method could not control the rate of false assignment. Here, I briefly outline the basic principles behind the Bayesian approach, identify the error made by Harrison et al., and provide detailed guidelines as to how the method should be correctly applied. Furthermore, using the exact data from Harrison et al., I show that the Bayesian approach actually provides greater control over the number of false assignments than either of the other tested methods. Lastly, I conclude with a brief introduction to solomon, a recently updated version of the Bayesian approach that can account for genotyping error, missing data and false matching.

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