Observed linkage disequilibrium (LD) between genetic markers in different populations descended independently from a common ancestral population can be used to estimate their absolute time of divergence, because the correlation of LD between populations will be reduced each generation by an amount that, approximately, depends only on the recombination rate between markers. Although drift leads to divergence in allele frequencies, it has less effect on divergence in LD values. We derived the relationship between LD and time of divergence and verified it with coalescent simulations. We then used HapMap Phase II data to estimate time of divergence between human populations. Summed over large numbers of pairs of loci, we find a positive correlation of LD between African and non-African populations at levels of up to ∼0.3 cM. We estimate that the observed correlation of LD is consistent with an effective separation time of approximately 1,000 generations or ∼25,000 years before present. The most likely explanation for such relatively low separation times is the existence of substantial levels of migration between populations after the initial separation. Theory and results from coalescent simulations confirm that low levels of migration can lead to a downward bias in the estimate of separation time
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