Richard A. Neher and Oskar Hallatschek
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 110, 437--442, 2013
The genetic diversity of a species is shaped by its recent evolutionary history and can be used to infer demographic events or selective sweeps. Most inference methods are based on the null hypothesis that natural selection is a weak or infrequent evolutionary force. However, many species, particularly pathogens, are under continuous pressure to adapt in response to changing environments. A statistical framework for inference from diversity data of such populations is currently lacking. Towards this goal, we explore the properties of genealogies in a model of continual adaptation in asexual populations. We show that lineages trace back to a small pool of highly fit ancestors, in which almost simultaneous coalescence of more than two lineages frequently occurs. Whereas such multiple mergers are unlikely under the neutral coalescent, they create a unique genetic footprint in adapting populations. The site frequency spectrum of derived neutral alleles, for example, is nonmonotonic and has a peak at high frequencies, whereas Tajima's D becomes more and more negative with increasing sample size. Because multiple merger coalescents emerge in many models of rapid adaptation, we argue that they should be considered as a null model for adapting populations.