A Simple Method for Finding Explicit Analytic Transition Densities of Diffusion Processes with General Diploid Selection
Yun S. Song, Matthias Steinrücken


The transition density function of the Wright–Fisher diffusion describes the evolution of population-wide allele frequencies over time. This function has important practical applications in population genetics, but finding an explicit formula under a general diploid selection model has remained a difficult open problem. In this article, we develop a new computational method to tackle this classic problem. Specifically, our method explicitly finds the eigenvalues and eigenfunctions of the diffusion generator associated with the Wright–Fisher diffusion with recurrent mutation and arbitrary diploid selection, thus allowing one to obtain an accurate spectral representation of the transition density function. Simplicity is one of the appealing features of our approach. Although our derivation involves somewhat advanced mathematical concepts, the resulting algorithm is quite simple and efficient, only involving standard linear algebra. Furthermore, unlike previous approaches based on perturbation, which is applicable only when the population-scaled selection coefficient is small, our method is nonperturbative and is valid for a broad range of parameter values. As a by-product of our work, we obtain the rate of convergence to the stationary distribution under mutation–selection balance.

  • Received November 16, 2011.
  • Accepted December 20, 2011.
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