Investigating pedigree- and SNP-associated components of heritability in a wild population of Soay sheep

Caelinn James*, Josephine M. Pemberton, Pau Navarro, Sara Knott

*Corresponding author for this work

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Estimates of narrow sense heritability derived from genomic data that contain related individuals may be biased due to the within-family effects such as dominance, epistasis and common environmental factors. However, for many wild populations, removal of related individuals from the data would result in small sample sizes. In 2013, Zaitlen et al. proposed a method to estimate heritability in populations that include close relatives by simultaneously fitting an identity-by-state (IBS) genomic relatedness matrix (GRM) and an identity-by-descent (IBD) GRM. The IBD GRM is identical to the IBS GRM, except relatedness estimates below a specified threshold are set to 0. We applied this method to a sample of 8557 wild Soay sheep from St. Kilda, with genotypic information for 419,281 single nucleotide polymorphisms. We aimed to see how this method would partition heritability into population-level (IBS) and family-associated (IBD) variance for a range of genetic architectures, and so we focused on a mixture of polygenic and monogenic traits. We also implemented a variant of the model in which the IBD GRM was replaced by a GRM constructed from SNPs with low minor allele frequency to examine whether any additive genetic variance is captured by rare alleles. Whilst the inclusion of the IBD GRM did not significantly improve the fit of the model for the monogenic traits, it improved the fit for some of the polygenic traits, suggesting that dominance, epistasis and/or common environment not already captured by the non-genetic random effects fitted in our models may influence these traits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)202-210
Number of pages9
Issue number4
Early online date10 Feb 2024
Publication statusPrint publication - Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

© 2024. The Author(s).


  • Sheep/genetics
  • Phenotype
  • Animals
  • Pedigree
  • Sheep, Domestic/genetics
  • Genomics
  • Humans
  • Genotype
  • Models, Genetic
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Genome


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