Genetic diversity is necessary for evolutionary response to changing environmental conditions such as those facing many threatened and endangered species. To investigate the relationship between genetic diversity and conservation status, we conducted a systematic, quantitative review of vertebrate microsatellite data published since 1990: we screened 5165 previously published articles and identified 1941 microsatellite datasets spanning 17,988 loci that characterized wild populations distributed among five vertebrate classes. We analyzed these data in the context of conservation by comparing empirical estimates of heterozygosity and allelic richness between threatened and non-threatened species. We found that both heterozygosity and allelic richness are reduced in threatened species, suggesting that inbreeding and drift are both effective at removing genetic diversity in endangered populations. We then considered the criteria typically used to rank species of conservation concern (including declining population size, species range extent, and the number of mature individuals) to determine which of these criteria are most effective at identifying genetically depauperate species. However, we found that the existing criteria failed to systematically identify populations with low genetic diversity. To rectify this, we suggest a novel approach for identifying species of conservation need by estimating the expected loss of genetic diversity. We then evaluated the efficacy of our new approach and found that it performs significantly better than the existing methods for identifying species that merit conservation concern in part because of reduced genetic diversity.
Biological Conservation – Elsevier
Published: Nov 1, 2015
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