Local Extinction and Recolonization, Species Effective Population Size, and Modern Human Origins

A primary objection from a population genetics perspective to a multiregional model of modern human origins is that the model posits a large census size, whereas genetic data suggest a small effective population size. The relationship between census size and effective size is complex, but arguments based on an island model of migration show that if the effective population size reflects the number of breeding individuals and the effects of population subdivision, then an effective population size of 10,000 is inconsistent with the census size of 500,000 to 1,000,000 that has been suggested by archeological evidence. However, these models have ignored the effects of population extinction and recolonization, which increase the expected variance among demes and reduce the inbreeding effective population size. Using models developed for population extinction and recolonization, we show that a large census size consistent with the multiregional model can be reconciled with an effective population size of 10,000, but genetic variation among demes must be high, reflecting low interdeme migration rates and a colonization process that involves a small number of colonists or kin-structured colonization. Ethnographic and archeological evidence is insufficient to determine whether such demographic conditions existed among Pleistocene human populations, and further work needs to be done. More realistic models that incorporate isolation by distance and heterogeneity in extinction rates and effective deme sizes also need to be developed. However, if true, a process of population extinction and recolonization has interesting implications for human demographic history.