Genetics and demography in biological conservation

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Science  16 Sep 1988:
Vol. 241, Issue 4872, pp. 1455-1460
DOI: 10.1126/science.3420403


Predicting the extinction of single populations or species requires ecological and evolutionary information. Primary demographic factors affecting population dynamics include social structure, life history variation caused by environmental fluctuation, dispersal in spatially heterogeneous environments, and local extinction and colonization. In small populations, inbreeding can greatly reduce the average individual fitness, and loss of genetic variability from random genetic drift can diminish future adaptability to a changing environment. Theory and empirical examples suggest that demography is usually of more immediate importance than population genetics in determining the minimum viable sizes of wild populations. The practical need in biological conservation for understanding the interaction of demographic and genetic factors in extinction may provide a focus for fundamental advances at the interface of ecology and evolution.