The important parameter of effective population size is rarely estimable directly from demographic data. Indirect estimates of effective population size may be made from genetic data such as temporal variation of allelic frequencies or linkage disequilibrium in cohorts. We suggest here that an indirect estimate of the effective number of breeders might be based on the excess of heterozygosity expected in a cohort of progeny produced by a limited number of males and females. In computer simulations, heterozygote excesses for 30 unlinked loci having various numbers of alleles and allele-frequency profiles were obtained for cohorts produced by samples of breeders drawn from an age-structured population and having known variance in reproductive success and effective number. The 95% confidence limits around the estimate contained the true effective population size in 70 of 72 trials and the Spearman rank correlation of estimated and actual values was 0.991. An estimate based on heterozygote excess might have certain advantages over the previous estimates, requiring only single-locus and single-cohort data, but the sampling error among individuals and the effect of departures from random union of gametes still need-to be explored.

  • Received July 24, 1995.
  • Accepted May 20, 1996.