The use of marker-based relationship information to estimate the heritability of body weight in a natural population: a cautionary tale

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A number of procedures have been developed that allow the genetic parameters of natural populations to be estimated using relationship information inferred from marker data rather than known pedigrees. Three published approaches are available; the regression, pair-wise likelihood and Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) sib-ship reconstruction methods. These were applied to body weight and molecular data collected from the Soay sheep population of St. Kilda, which has a previously determined pedigree. The regression and pair-wise likelihood approaches do not specify an exact pedigree and yielded unreliable heritability estimates, that were sensitive to alteration of the fixed effects. The MCMC method, which specifies a pedigree prior to heritability estimation, yielded results closer to those determined using the known pedigree. In populations of low average relationship, such as the Soay sheep population, determination of a reliable pedigree is more useful than indirect approaches that do not specify a pedigree.

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