Realized Sampling Variances of Estimates of Genetic Parameters and the Difference Between Genetic and Phenotypic Correlations
Kenneth R. Koots, John P. Gibson


A data set of 1572 heritability estimates and 1015 pairs of genetic and phenotypic correlation estimates, constructed from a survey of published beef cattle genetic parameter estimates, provided a rare opportunity to study realized sampling variances of genetic parameter estimates. The distribution of both heritability estimates and genetic correlation estimates, when plotted against estimated accuracy, was consistent with random error variance being some three times the sampling variance predicted from standard formulae. This result was consistent with the observation that the variance of estimates of heritabilities and genetic correlations between populations were about four times the predicted sampling variance, suggesting few real differences in genetic parameters between populations. Except where there was a strong biological or statistical expectation of a difference, there was little evidence for differences between genetic and phenotypic correlations for most trait combinations or for differences in genetic correlations between populations. These results suggest that, even for controlled populations, estimating genetic parameters specific to a given population is less useful than commonly believed. A serendipitous discovery was that, in the standard formula for theoretical standard error of a genetic correlation estimate, the heritabilities refer to the estimated values and not, as seems generally assumed, the true population values.

  • Received August 22, 1995.
  • Accepted March 25, 1996.