Genomic loci that control the variance of agronomically important traits are increasingly important due to the profusion of unpredictable environments arising from climate change. The ability to identify such variance-controlling loci in association studies will be critical for future breeding efforts. Two statistical approaches that have already been used in the variance genome-wide association study (vGWAS) paradigm are the Brown–Forsythe test (BFT) and the double generalized linear model (DGLM). To ensure that these approaches are deployed as effectively as possible, it is critical to study the factors that influence their ability to identify variance-controlling loci. We used genome-wide marker data in maize (Zea mays L.) and Arabidopsis thaliana to simulate traits controlled by epistasis, genotype by environment (GxE) interactions, and variance quantitative trait nucleotides (vQTNs). We then quantified true and false positive detection rates of the BFT and DGLM across all simulated traits. We also conducted a vGWAS using both the BFT and DGLM on plant height in a maize diversity panel. The observed true positive detection rates at the maximum sample size considered (N = 2815) suggest that both of these vGWAS approaches are capable of identifying epistasis and GxE for sufficiently large sample sizes. We also noted that the DGLM decisively outperformed the BFT for simulated traits controlled by vQTNs at sample sizes of N = 500. Although we conclude that there are still certain aspects of vGWAS approaches that need further refinement, this study suggests that the BFT and DGLM are capable of identifying variance-controlling loci in current state-of-the-art plant or agronomic data sets.
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