Because low genetic diversity may threaten the viability of isolated populations, conservation biologists have devoted much effort to quantify genetic variation. Two techniques routinely used involve levels of mini- and microsatellite polymorphism, with the assumption that levels of variation at these parts of the genome will be reflected in levels of variation at other loci. Our data challenge this assumption. We studied six populations of sand lizards (Lacerta agilis) and five populations of adders (Vipera berus), differing considerably in size and degree of isolation. They, therefore, offer an opportunity to examine how population parameters affect genetic variation at different parts of the genome. Relative population size (based on degree of isolation and number of animals) was not correlated with either minisatellite variability or microsatellite heterozygosity. However, our measures of genetic diversity at the Mhc class I loci of both sand lizards and adders revealed a significant correlation between relative population size and Mhc polymorphism: non-isolated/larger populations exhibited higher genetic diversity than did isolated/small populations. Consequently, only the Mhc-based estimates of genetic diversity yielded results in agreement with population genetic theory.
- Population size
- Population genetics