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A panmictic population is one where all individuals are potential partners. This assumes that there are no mating restrictions, neither genetic or behavioural, upon the population, and that therefore all recombination is possible. The Wahlund effect assumes that the overall population is panmictic.
In genetics, random mating involves the mating of individuals regardless of any physical, genetic, or social preference. In other words, the mating between two organisms is not influenced by any environmental, hereditary, or social interaction. Hence, potential mates have an equal chance of being selected. Random mating is a factor assumed in the Hardy-Weinberg principle and is distinct from lack of natural selection: in viability selection for instance, selection occurs before mating.
In simpler terms, it is the ability of individuals in a population to move about freely within their habitat, possibly over a range of hundreds to thousands of miles, and thus breed with other members of the population that defines panmixia (or panmicticism).
To signify the importance of this, imagine several different finite populations of the same species (for example: a grazing herbivore), isolated from each other by some physical characteristic of the environment (dense forest areas separating grazing lands). As time progresses, natural selection and genetic drift will slowly move each population toward genetic differentiation that would make each population genetically unique (that could eventually lead to speciation events or extirpation).
However, if the separating factor is removed before this happens (ex. a road is cut through the forest), and the individuals are allowed to move about freely, the individual populations will still be able to interbreed. As the species's populations interbreed over time, they become more genetically uniform, functioning again as a single panmictic population.
In attempting to describe the mathematical properties of structured populations, Sewall Wright proposed a "factor of Panmixia" (P) to include in the equations describing the gene frequencies in a population, and accounting for a population's tendency towards panmixia, while a "factor of Fixation" (F) would account for a population's departure from the Hardy-Weinberg expectation, due to less than panmictic mating. In this formulation, the two quantities are complementary, i.e. P = 1 - F. From this factor of fixation, he later developed the F statistics.
- King C and Stanfield W.D. 1997. Dictionary of genetics. Oxford. "Panmixia (panmixis): random mating as contrasted with assortative mating."
- Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary. "Panmixia: Random mating within a breeding population."
- Gayon, Jean; Cobb, Matthew (1998), Darwinism's Struggle for Survival: Heredity and the Hypothesis of Natural Selection, Cambridge University Press, p. 158, ISBN 0-521-56250-3
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