Is mutation accumulation a threat to the survival of endangered populations?

Dean M. Gilligan, Lynn M. Woodworth, Margaret E. Montgomery, David A. Briscoe, Richard Frankham*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Citations (Scopus)


The accumulation of new deleterious mutations has been predicted to constitute a significant threat to the survival of finite sexually reproducing populations. Three measures of genetic lead were made on populations of Drosophila melanogaster maintained at effective population sizes of 25, 50, 100, 250, and 500 for 45 or 50 generations and their outbred base population and a new sample from the same wild population. Genetic loads were measured as fitness differentials between inbred and non-inbred lines derived from each population under both benign (productivity of single pairs) and competitive (competitive index) conditions. No trend of smaller populations exhibiting greater genetic loads than larger ones was observed under either benign or competitive conditions. Further, genetic loads were similar in captive and wild populations. Frequencies of deleterious and lethal alleles on chromosome H were measured by making the chromosome (approximately 40% of the genome) homozygous using a marked balancer stock. Neither deleterious nor lethal allele frequencies exhibited a relationship with population size. The accumulation of detrimental mutations does not appear to pose a significant threat to finite sexual populations with effective sizes of 25 or more over the 100-200 year time frames considered in most wildlife conservation programs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1235-1241
Number of pages7
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1997


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