Recent advances in genomics have enabled researchers to shed light on the evolutionary processes driving human adaptation, by revealing the genetic architectures underlying traits ranging from lactase persistence, to skin pigmentation, to hypoxic response, to arsenic tolerance. Complicating the identification of targets of positive selection in modern human populations is their complex demographic history, characterized by population bottlenecks and expansions, population structure, migration, and admixture. In particular, founder effects and recent strong population size reductions, such as those experienced by the indigenous peoples of the Americas, have severe impacts on genetic variation that can lead to the accumulation of large allele frequency differences between populations due to genetic drift rather than natural selection. While distinguishing the effects of demographic history from selection remains challenging, neglecting neutral processes can lead to the incorrect identification of candidate loci. We here review the recent population genomic insights into the genetic basis of arsenic tolerance in Andean populations, and utilize this example to highlight both the difficulties pertaining to the identification of local adaptations in strongly bottlenecked populations, as well as the importance of controlling for demographic history in selection scans.
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