The crucial role of genome-wide genetic variation in conservation

Kardos, Marty
Armstrong, Ellie E.
Fitzpatrick, Sarah
Hauser, Samantha
Hedrick, Philip W.
Miller, Joshua M.
Tallmon, David A.
Funk, W. Chris
Faculty Advisor
genomics , population dynamics , inbreeding depression , adaptative potential , extinction
Abstract (summary)
The unprecedented rate of extinction calls for efficient use of genetics to help conserve biodiversity. Several recent genomic and simulation-based studies have argued that the field of conservation biology has placed too much focus on conserving genome-wide genetic variation, and that the field should instead focus on managing the subset of functional genetic variation that is thought to affect fitness. Here, we critically evaluate the feasibility and likely benefits of this approach in conservation. We find that population genetics theory and empirical results show that conserving genome-wide genetic variation is generally the best approach to prevent inbreeding depression and loss of adaptive potential from driving populations towards extinction. Focusing conservation efforts on presumably functional genetic variation will only be feasible occasionally, often misleading, and counterproductive when prioritized over genome-wide genetic variation. Given the increasing rate of habitat loss and other environmental changes, failure to recognize the detrimental effects of lost genome-wide genetic variation on long-term population viability will only worsen the biodiversity crisis.
Publication Information
Kardos, M., Armstrong, E., Fitzpatrick, S. W., Hauser, S., Hedrick, P. W., Miller, J. M., Tallmon, D. A., Funk, W. C. The crucial role of genome-wide genetic variation in conservation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2021 Nov 30, 118(48):e2104642118. Available from:
Item Type
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND)