I have recently been involved in collaborations that require me to model the population genetics of eukaryotic populations. I fear I may either be "re-inventing the wheel" or making conceptual mistakes (e.g. simplifying assumptions) in many of the techniques and decisions so far.

I would very much appreciate recommendations of books about population/evolutionary genetics or micro evolution to deal with these fears. Preferable criteria are:

  1. Intuitively introduces key concepts.

  2. Emphasis on modelling with examples of problems and their solutions.

  3. Relatively short (I'm planning to read from cover to cover).

  • $\begingroup$ Great suggestions so far, and the edits by @fileunderwater $\endgroup$ – hello_there_andy Oct 5 '19 at 12:04


I'd recommend Population Genetics: A Concise Guide (Gillespie) for an introduction to population/evolutionary genetics (thanks AGS for highlighting this big miss of mine on the first version of my answer).

I'd recommend A Biologist's guide to mathematical modelling in evolution and ecology (Otto and Day) if you want to ensure your knowledge in mathematics by learning their application to evolutionary biology.

General Entry Books to Population Genetics

There are several books that offer an introduction to population genetics. I read Principles of Population Genetics (Hartl & Clarke). I appreciated it but if I were you I think I would rather try Elements of population genetics (Charlesworth) or Population Genetics (Hamilton). There is also Genetics of Populations (Hedrick). I would tend to think that this last book presents lots of empirical population genetics data and doesn't take as much focus as the others in theoretical concepts (but I might be wrong). Gillespie's book Population Genetics: A Concise Guide is a classic. It is short, very easy to follow and pleasant to read. Gillespie's book might eventually be a little bit outdated but I would still highly recommend it.

Emphasis on Analytical Modelling

A Biologist's guide to mathematical modelling in evolution and ecology (Otto and Day) is a very good and very accessible book. It makes a good review about all subjects that are usually taught to first year students in Biology such as linear algebra for example. It is highly accessible and in the meantime it goes pretty far as it ends up talking about the application of diffusion equation in population genetics (Kimura's work among others). This book presents some important models in population genetics but as it aims to provide the tools for mathematical modelling in ecology and evolution it may under-considerate some fields of ecology and evolutionary biology. For example, the book does not talk about population structure nor about evolutionary game theory and there is little about Coalescent theory.

Other books treating specific subjects within population genetics

Coalescent Theory: an Introduction (John Wakeley) is a good book. I haven't read it completely for both time issues and because the math are a bit complicated for me. Coalescent theory offers a very important set of mathematical tools in evolutionary biology.

There's also Mathematical population genetics (Ewens). I am currently reading it. It is definitely not an introductory book and it really doesn't cover much of the most common fields in population genetics.

If you are particularly interested in age-structured population, Evolution in age-structured populations (Charlesworth) is a very good book.

Modeling evolution (Roff) offers some discussion on how to mathematically define fitness from phenotypic traits. While it is interesting I would not counsel you to buy it. Moreover, all the mathematics are quite basic and it aims to explain how to perform mathematical modelling with R which is to my opinion not essential to learn as other languages make a better job at dealing with math (Mathematica for example).

Evolutionary Conservation Biology (Ferrière, Couvet and Dieckmann) is a very good book of conservation and conservation genetics. It develop some mathematical models that are of special interest to conservation of populations and communities.

Ecology, Genetics and Evolution in Metapopulations (Hanski and Gaggiotti) is a book that may interest you as well. However it focuses much more on ecology than the other ones I cited above. Note: I haven't read it entirely.

If you are interested in kin selection and level of selection, you might want to have a look at Major Transitions In Evolution (Maynard Smith and Szathmary) which is a classic (I have not read it though) or The Major Transitions in Evolution Revisited (Calcott and Sterelny) who encompass the opinion of many authors on the subject. Evolutionary Dynamics: Exploring the Equations of Life (Nowak) is also of interest esp. for those interested in epidemiology. Finally, you might want to have a look at the extremely well written and easy to read books by Dawkins such as The extended phenotype (Dawkins) for example. The Dawkins book are very popular and very very introductory. It offers more a way to think than the actual science behind evolutionary biology.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ my savior, cheers $\endgroup$ – hello_there_andy Apr 10 '14 at 23:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Sorry for this late response. I am studying evolution these days and thought of learning the basics from Hartl and Clarke. As I was reading, I realized that the book doesn't give full proofs/derivations to any formulae. I find Kimura's papers quite difficult to read. Which book of this would you suggest me for a complete understanding of the mathematical aspects of different models/formulae? For e.g., I want clear derivations of Kimura's equations. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG May 14 '18 at 12:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @WYSIWYG Kimura wrote a lot of equations. Which one are you having a hard time to understand? If you're having a hard time with diffusion equations and kolmogorov equations, you might want to have a look at any intro math course to diffusion equation. A Biologist's guide to mathematical modelling in evolution and ecology (Otto and Day) (linked in the post) gives some easy introduction to diffusion equations but does not enters into the details of its derivations. Hope that helps $\endgroup$ – Remi.b May 15 '18 at 15:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ See my new question. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG May 15 '18 at 20:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I saw it (and upvoted it) after writing my comment. I am not able to answer it though. Asking on math.SE could be a good idea. $\endgroup$ – Remi.b May 15 '18 at 21:19

@Remi.b's list is excellent, but it should also include Gillespie's Population Genetics: A Concise Guide.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You've written this anser two years ago. Since that I kept the note that I had to read this book. I finally did it and could make an appropriate comment in my answer. It is a very good book I agree. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Apr 19 '16 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ Wow, I knew that Gillespie simulations work wonders for gene-circuit engineering. Wonders it does work, for modelling stochastic dynamics at multiple organisational scales in Biology then I guess. Cheers. sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2001037014000403 $\endgroup$ – hello_there_andy Mar 16 '17 at 19:40

Not relatively short, but I'm going to repeat a recommendation I just made in another thread. Population Genetics and Microevolutionary Theory by Alan Templeton covers many of the topics listed above, and is heavy on the self-learning of various population structure statistics, with examples. It is an introductory textbook with for people with some statistical background (though it includes a statistical appendix as well). There is quite a bit of discussion of Bayesian inference and other modeling methods as well.


I personally like the Primer on Population Biology by Wilson and Bossert. For a book that is almost 45 years old, it holds up pretty well. One of the best things about this book is that they provide examples and then walk through the solutions step by step. Once in a while it gets a bit too mathematical for this Biologist, but overall, I find it readable and informative.

I think this book fits all of your criteria very closely.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.