A pseudo maximum likelihood method is proposed to estimate effective population size (Ne) using temporal changes in allele frequencies at multi-allelic loci. The computation is simplified dramatically by (1) approximating the multi-dimensional joint probabilities of all the data by the product of marginal probabilities (hence the name pseudo-likelihood), (2) exploiting the special properties of transition matrix and (3) using a hidden Markov chain algorithm. Simulations show that the pseudo-likelihood method has a similar performance but needs much less computing time and storage compared with the full likelihood method in the case of 3 alleles per locus. Due to computational developments, I was able to assess the performance of the pseudo-likelihood method against the F-statistic method over a wide range of parameters by extensive simulations. It is shown that the pseudo-likelihood method gives more accurate and precise estimates of Ne than the F-statistic method, and the performance difference is mainly due to the presence of rare alleles in the samples. The pseudo-likelihood method is also flexible and can use three or more temporal samples simultaneously to estimate satisfactorily the Nes of each period, or the growth parameters of the population. The accuracy and precision of both methods depend on the ratio of the product of sample size and the number of generations involved to Ne, and the number of independent alleles used. In an application of the pseudo-likelihood method to a large data set of an olive fly population, more precise estimates of Ne are obtained than those from the F-statistic method.
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