Deep Human Genealogies Reveal a Selective Advantage to Be on an Expanding Wave Front

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Science  03 Nov 2011:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1212880


Since their origin, human populations have colonized the whole planet, but the demographic processes governing range expansions are mostly unknown. We analyzed the genealogy of more than 1 million individuals resulting from a range expansion in Quebec between 1686 and 1960 and reconstructed the spatial dynamics of the expansion. We find that a majority of the present Saguenay Lac Saint-Jean population can be traced back to ancestors having lived directly on or close to the wave front. Ancestors located on the front contributed significantly more to the current gene pool than those from the range core, likely due to a 20% larger effective fertility of women on the wave front. This fitness component is heritable on the wave front and not in the core, implying that this life-history trait evolves during range expansions.