Conservation and genetics

Charles B. Fenster*, Jonathan D. Ballou, Michele R. Dudash, Mark D. B. Eldridge, Richard Frankham, Robert C. Lacy, Katherine Ralls, Paul Sunnucks

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalComment/opinionpeer-review

    12 Citations (Scopus)


    Humans are responsible for a cataclysm of species extinction that will change the world as we see it, and will adversely affect human health and wellbeing. We need to understand at individual and societal levels why species conservation is important. Accepting the premise that species have value, we need to next consider the mechanisms underlying species extinction and what we can do to reverse the process. One of the last stages of species extinction is the reduction of a species to a few populations of relatively few individuals, a scenario that leads invariably to inbreeding and its adverse consequences, inbreeding depression. Inbreeding depression can be so severe that populations become at risk of extinction not only because of the expression of harmful recessive alleles (alleles having no phenotypic effect when in the heterozygous condition, e.g., Aa, where a is the recessive allele), but also because of their inability to respond genetically with sufficient speed to adapt to changing environmental conditions. However, new conservation approaches based on foundational quantitative and population genetic theory advocate for active genetic management of fragmented populations by facilitating gene movements between populations, i.e., admixture, or genetic rescue. Why species conservation is critical, the genetic consequences of small population size that often lead to extinction, and possible solutions to the problem of small population size are discussed and presented.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)491-501
    Number of pages11
    JournalYale Journal of Biology and Medicine
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018


    • conservation
    • biodiversity
    • genetic rescue
    • inbreeding
    • inbreeding depression
    • ecosystem services


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