Strategies for determining kinship in wild populations using genetic data.

Knowledge of kin relationships between members of wild animal populations has broad application in ecology and evolution research by allowing the investigation of dispersal dynamics, mating systems, inbreeding avoidance, kin recognition, and kin selection as well as aiding the management of endangered populations. However, the assessment of kinship among members of wild animal populations is difficult in the absence of detailed multigenerational pedigrees. Here, we first review the distinction between genetic relatedness and kinship derived from pedigrees and how this makes the identification of kin using genetic data inherently challenging. We then describe useful approaches to kinship classification, such as parentage analysis and sibship reconstruction, and explain how the combined use of marker systems with biparental and uniparental inheritance, demographic information, likelihood analyses, relatedness coefficients, and estimation of misclassification rates can yield reliable classifications of kinship in groups with complex kin structures. We outline alternative approaches for cases in which explicit knowledge of dyadic kinship is not necessary, but indirect inferences about kinship on a group- or population-wide scale suffice, such as whether more highly related dyads are in closer spatial proximity. Although analysis of highly variable microsatellite loci is still the dominant approach for studies on wild populations, we describe how the long-awaited use of large-scale single-nucleotide polymorphism and sequencing data derived from noninvasive low-quality samples may eventually lead to highly accurate assessments of varying degrees of kinship in wild populations.

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