Research Article

Conservation Genetics

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 421-433

First online:

The use of approximate Bayesian computation in conservation genetics and its application in a case study on yellow-eyed penguins

  • Joao S. LopesAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, University of Reading Email author 
  • , Sanne BoessenkoolAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, University of OtagoNational Centre for Biosystematics, Natural History Museum, University of Oslo

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The inference of demographic parameters from genetic data has become an integral part of conservation studies. A group of Bayesian methods developed originally in population genetics, known as approximate Bayesian computation (ABC), has been shown to be particularly useful for the estimation of such parameters. These methods do not need to evaluate likelihood functions analytically and can therefore be used even while assuming complex models. In this paper we describe the ABC approach and identify specific parts of its algorithm that are being the subject of intensive studies in order to further expand its usability. Furthermore, we discuss applications of this Bayesian algorithm in conservation studies, providing insights on the potentialities of these tools. Finally, we present a case study in which we use a simple Isolation-Migration model to estimate a number of demographic parameters of two populations of yellow-eyed penguins (Megadyptes antipodes) in New Zealand. The resulting estimates confirm our current understanding of M. antipodes dynamic, demographic history and provide new insights into the expansion this species has undergone during the last centuries.


Approximate Bayesian computation Historical demography Likelihood-free Isolation-Migration model Megadyptes antipodes Population genetics