Natural populations of known detailed past demographic history are extremely valuable to evaluate methods of historical inference, yet are extremely rare. As an alternative approach, we have generated multiple replicate microsatellite data sets from laboratory-cultured populations of a gonochoric free-living nematode, Caenorhabditis remanei, that were constrained to pre-defined demographic histories featuring different levels of migration among populations or bottleneck events of different magnitudes. These data sets were then used to evaluate the performances of two recently developed population genetics methods, BayesAss+, that estimates recent migration rates among populations, and Bottleneck, that detects the occurrence of recent bottlenecks. Migration rates inferred by BayesAss+ were generally over-estimates, although these were often included within the confidence interval. Analyses of data sets simulated in-silico, using a model mimicking the laboratory experiments, produced less biased estimates of the migration rates, and showed increased efficiency of the program when the number of loci and sampled genotypes per population was higher. In the replicates for which the pre-bottleneck laboratory-cultured populations did not significantly depart from a mutation/drift equilibrium, an important assumption of the program Bottleneck, only a portion of the bottleneck events were detected. This result was confirmed by in-silico simulations mirroring the laboratory bottleneck experiments. More generally, our study demonstrates the feasibility, and highlights some of the limits, of the approach that consists in generating molecular genetic data sets by controlling the evolution of laboratory-reared nematode populations, for the purpose of validating methods inferring population history.
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