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Beyond Bonferroni: Less Conservative Analyses for Conservation Genetics

Oct 1, 2006


Studies in conservation genetics often attempt to determine genetic differentiation between two or more temporally or geographically distinct sample collections. Pairwise p-values from Fisher’s exact tests or contingency Chi-square tests are commonly reported with a Bonferroni correction for multiple tests. While the Bonferroni correction controls the experiment-wise α, this correction is very conservative and results in greatly diminished power to detect differentiation among pairs of sample collections. An alternative is to control the false discovery rate (FDR) that provides increased power, but this method only maintains experiment-wise α when none of the pairwise comparisons are significant. Recent modifications to the FDR method provide a moderate approach to determining significance level. Simulations reveal that critical values of multiple comparison tests with both the Bonferroni method and a modified FDR method approach a minimum asymptote very near zero as the number of tests gets large, but the Bonferroni method approaches zero much more rapidly than the modified FDR method. I compared pairwise significance from three published studies using three critical values corresponding to Bonferroni, FDR, and modified FDR methods. Results suggest that the modified FDR method may provide the most biologically important critical value for evaluating significance of population differentiation in conservation genetics. Ultimately, more thorough reporting of statistical significance is needed to allow interpretation of biological significance of genetic differentiation among populations.

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Narum, S.R. 2006. Beyond Bonferroni: less conservative analyses for conservation genetics. Conservation Genetics 7:783-787. Online at



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Journal Article