Genetical Research

Quantitative genetics in conservation biology

a1 Key Centre for Biodiversity and Bioresources, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, NSW 2109, Australia


Most of the major genetic concerns in conservation biology, including inbreeding depression, loss of evolutionary potential, genetic adaptation to captivity and outbreeding depression, involve quantitative genetics. Small population size leads to inbreeding and loss of genetic diversity and so increases extinction risk. Captive populations of endangered species are managed to maximize the retention of genetic diversity by minimizing kinship, with subsidiary efforts to minimize inbreeding. There is growing evidence that genetic adaptation to captivity is a major issue in the genetic management of captive populations of endangered species as it reduces reproductive fitness when captive populations are reintroduced into the wild. This problem is not currently addressed, but it can be alleviated by deliberately fragmenting captive populations, with occasional exchange of immigrants to avoid excessive inbreeding. The extent and importance of outbreeding depression is a matter of controversy. Currently, an extremely cautious approach is taken to mixing populations. However, this cannot continue if fragmented populations are to be adequately managed to minimize extinctions. Most genetic management recommendations for endangered species arise directly, or indirectly, from quantitative genetic considerations.

(Received March 29 1999)
(Revised June 18 1999)

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