Realistic levels of inbreeding depression strongly affect extinction risk in wild populations

Julian J. O'Grady*, Barry W. Brook, David H. Reed, Jonathan D. Ballou, David W. Tonkyn, Richard Frankham

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    382 Citations (Scopus)


    The role of inbreeding depression in the extinction of wild populations is controversial, largely because there are no quantitative estimates of its impact using realistic levels of inbreeding depression. To address this deficiency, this study (1) provides a comprehensive estimate of the impact of inbreeding depression on wild, mammalian and avian species via a meta-analysis, and (2) determines the impact of this level of inbreeding depression on extinction risk over a broad taxonomic range via stochastic computer projections with and without inbreeding depression for populations with carrying capacities of 100, 500 and 2000 individuals. An average overall effect of 12 diploid lethal equivalents was found across the life-history of the species in the meta-analysis. In the stochastic computer projections, 12 diploid lethal equivalents of inbreeding depression (with purging) decreased median times to extinction by an average of 37%. These decreases were significant and of very similar magnitude, regardless of the carrying capacity modelled. Disregarding the influence of inbreeding depression on extinction risk will lead to serious overestimates of the survival prospects of threatened mammalian and avian taxa. Further, inappropriate recovery plans may be instituted if the causes of extinction risk and their relative contributions are not recognized.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)42-51
    Number of pages10
    JournalBiological Conservation
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2006


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