Genealogies of rapidly adapting populations
Richard A. Neher, Oskar Hallatschek
(Submitted on 15 Aug 2012)
The genetic diversity of a species is shaped by its recent evolutionary history and can be used to infer demographic events or selective sweeps. Most inference methods are based on the null hypothesis that natural selection is a weak evolutionary force. However, many species, particularly pathogens, are under continuous pressure to adapt in response to changing environments. A statistical framework for inference from diversity data of such populations is currently lacking. Toward this goal, we explore the properties of genealogies that emerge from models of continual adaptation. We show that lineages trace back to a small pool of highly fit ancestors, in which simultaneous coalescence of more than two lineages frequently occurs. While such multiple mergers are unlikely under the neutral coalescent, they create a unique genetic footprint in adapting populations. The site frequency spectrum of derived neutral alleles, for example, is non-monotonic and has a peak at high frequencies, whereas Tajima’s D becomes more and more negative with increasing sample size. Since multiple merger coalescents emerge in various evolutionary scenarios characterized by sustained selection pressures, we argue that they should be considered as null-models for adapting populations.