The effective population size is the size of an ideal population (i.e., one that meets all the Hardy-Weinberg assumptions) that would lose heterozygosity at a rate equal to that of the observed population. See Gillespie text pp. 47-49 and Hartl (2000, Eqn 2.47) for how population size affects the decline of heterozygosity.

Because the transmission of genes from one generation
to the next is fundamentally a demographic process, the size of the population
is an integral part of almost any population genetics analysis. Put differently,
genetic drift is directly related to population size (small = more drift,
large = less drift). The triangle of **drift, mutation and migration**
is the big three for the purposes of understanding a neutral theory approach to population
genetic structure.

One doesn't need to look very far through a population
genetics text to see *N* in a population genetics equation. A big
problem is that *N*_{e} is usually part of a product whose
separate terms we may not be able to estimate. For example, we often
see the quantity (theta):

**What factors affect N_{e}?**
In general,

**1)** One of the most important influences reducing
*N*_{e}
relative to *N* is **fluctuating population size**. This is because
*N*_{e}
that accounts for fluctuating population size is calculated as the **harmonic
mean** of the census size. The harmonic mean is the reciprocal of [the average of
the reciprocals]. An example will clarify both the meaning of this and
its dramatic impact. Say we have a population census over four time periods
of 200, 150, 50, and 300. What is the estimate of *N*_{e}?

**2) **A second factor affecting *N*_{e}
is the **breeding sex ratio**. A famous equation for dairy cows shows
the dramatic effect a very skewed sex ratio can have. Say we have 96 cows
and 4 bulls as the "breeding herd". What is *N*_{e}? The equation
is:

**3) **A third influence on *N*_{e}
can have an interesting effect that sometimes enters into captive breeding
designs. *N*_{e} assumes a **Poisson distribution of family
(offspring) numbers**. The Poisson is characterized by having the variance
equal the mean. If the variance is lower than the mean, then *N*_{e}
can actually be **larger** than the census size! Zoos will sometimes maintain
their captive breeding stock to equalize family sizes (zero variance).
This can increase *N*_{e}. They will usually need to keep
"reserve" breeders, in case of the death of one of the selected breeders.
In natural populations, if the environment causes the variance to exceed
the mean (which may occur fairly frequently) then *N*_{e }will
again be less than *N*. Hartl (2000, p. 96) gives an example of the
reduction of *N*_{e} relative to *N* because of variance
in family size.

**4) Overlapping generations **can also
act to reduce *N*_{e}. (Felsenstein, 1971).

**5) **Yet another factor affecting *N*_{e} is the** spatial dispersion
**(pattern of spatial distribution) of
the population. Its influence on the effective size is given by:

A major problem, though, is how to account simultaneously
for all these various effects -- the jury is definitely still out on that
one. Technical discussions of *N*_{e} include important papers
by Caballero (1994), Crow and Denniston (1988), Harris and Allendorf (1989),
various papers by Nunney, Vucetich et al. (1997), and Whitlock and Barton
(1997). Waples (1989) showed how to estimate *N*_{e} by using temporal fluctuations in allele frequencies. Wang and Whitlock (2003) incorporated variation in both time and space as bases for estimating
*N*_{e}.

In the literature, you may see "variance effective size" and "inbreeding effective size". The former focuses on changes in genetic variance, on consequences for the offspring generation and hence naturally leads to consideration of interpopulation divergence. The latter focuses on changes in heterozygosity, on consequences for the parental generation, and hence naturally leads to consideration of the level of inbreeding within populations. See Crow and Kimura's (1970) text (pp. 345-364) for a much more detailed treatment of the different derivations and distinctions.

References:

Caballero, A. 1994. Review article: Developments in the prediction of effective population size. Heredity 73: 657-679.

Chesser, R.K., and R.J. Baker. 1996. Effective sizes and dynamics of uniparentally and diparentally inherited genes. Genetics 144: 1225-1235.

Crow, J.F., and C. Denniston. 1988. Inbreeding and variance effective population effective numbers. Evol. 42: 482-495.

Crow, J.F., and M. Kimura. 1970. An Introduction to Population Genetics Theory. Burgess Publishing, Minneapolis, MN.

Felsenstein, J. 1971. Inbreeding and variance effective numbers in populations with overlapping generations. Genetics 68: 581-597.

Harris, R.B., and F.W. Allendorf. 1989. Genetically effective population size of large mammals: an assessment of estimators. Conserv. Biol. 3: 181-191.

Hartl, D.L. 2000. A Primer of Population Genetics (3

^{rd}ed.). Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, MAHedrick, P.W., and M.E. Gilpin. 1997. Genetic effective size of a metapopulation. Pp. 165-181

InMetapopulation Biology: Ecology, Genetics and Evolution (I. Hanski, and M.E. Gilpin, eds.). Academic Press, NY.Nielsen, Rasmus. 1997. A likelihood approach to populations samples of microsatellite alleles. Genetics 146: 711-716

Nunney, L. 1995. Measuring the ratio of effective population size to adult numbers using genetic and ecological data. Evolution 49: 389-392.

Nunney, L. 1999. The effective size of a hierarchically structured population. Evol. 53: 1-10.

Nunney, L., and K.A. Campbell. 1993. Assessing minimum viable population size: demography meets population genetics. Trends Ecol. Evol. 8: 234-239.

Vucetich, J.A., T.A. Waite, and L. Nunney. 1997. Fluctuating population size and the ratio of effective to census population size. Evol. 51: 2017-2021.

Wang, J., and M.C. Whitlock. 2003. Estimating effective population size and migration rates from genetic samples over space and time. Genetics 163: 429-446.

Waples, R.S. 1989. A generalized method for estimating effective population size from temporal changes in allele frequency. Genetics 121: 379-391.

Whitlock, M.C., and N.H. Barton. 1997. The effective size of a subdivided population. Genetics 146: 427-441.

Woolfenden, G.E. and J.W. Fitzpatrick. 1984. The Florida Scrub Jay: Demography of a Cooperative-breeding Bird. Monogr. Pop. Biol. 20. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, N.J.