An empirical comparison of population genetic analyses using microsatellite and SNP data for a species of conservation concern

BMC Genomics
By: , and 




Use of genomic tools to characterize wildlife populations has increased in recent years. In the past, genetic characterization has been accomplished with more traditional genetic tools (e.g., microsatellites). The explosion of genomic methods and the subsequent creation of large SNP datasets has led to the promise of increased precision in population genetic parameter estimates and identification of demographically and evolutionarily independent groups, as well as questions about the future usefulness of the more traditional genetic tools. At present, few empirical comparisons of population genetic parameters and clustering analyses performed with microsatellites and SNPs have been conducted.


Here we used microsatellite and SNP data generated from Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus) samples to evaluate concordance of the results obtained from each dataset for common metrics of genetic diversity (HO, HE, FIS, AR) and differentiation (FST, GST, DJost). Additionally, we evaluated clustering of individuals using putatively neutral (SNPs and microsatellites), putatively adaptive, and a combined dataset of putatively neutral and adaptive loci. We took particular interest in the conservation implications of any differences. Generally, we found high concordance between microsatellites and SNPs for HE, FIS, AR, and all differentiation estimates. Although there was strong correlation between metrics from SNPs and microsatellites, the magnitude of the diversity and differentiation metrics were quite different in some cases. Clustering analyses also showed similar patterns, though SNP data was able to cluster individuals into more distinct groups. Importantly, clustering analyses with SNP data suggest strong demographic independence among the six distinct populations of Gunnison sage-grouse with some indication of evolutionary independence in two or three populations; a finding that was not revealed by microsatellite data.


We demonstrate that SNPs have three main advantages over microsatellites: more precise estimates of population-level diversity, higher power to identify groups in clustering methods, and the ability to consider local adaptation. This study adds to a growing body of work comparing the use of SNPs and microsatellites to evaluate genetic diversity and differentiation for a species of conservation concern with relatively high population structure and using the most common method of obtaining SNP genotypes for non-model organisms.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title An empirical comparison of population genetic analyses using microsatellite and SNP data for a species of conservation concern
Series title BMC Genomics
DOI 10.1186/s12864-020-06783-9
Volume 21
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher BMC
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center
Description 382, 16 p.
Country United States
State Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details