Relationship of genetic variation to population size in wildlife

Richard Frankham*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

983 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Genetic diversity is one of three levels of biological diversity requiring conservation. Genetic theory predicts that levels of genetic variation should increase with effective population size. Soule (1976) compiled the first convincing evidence that levels of genetic variation in wildlife were related to population size, but this issue remains controversial. The hypothesis that genetic variation is related to population size leads to the following predictions: (1) genetic variation within species should be related to population size; (2) genetic variation within species should be related to island size; (3) genetic variation should be related to population size within taxonomic groups; (4) widespread species should have more genetic variation than restricted species; (5) genetic variation in animals should be negatively correlated with body size; (6) genetic variation should be negatively correlated with rate of chromosome evolution; (7) genetic variation across species should be related to population size; (8) vertebrates should have less genetic variation than invertebrates or plants; (9) island populations should have less genetic variation than mainland populations; and (10) endangered species should have less genetic variation than nonendangered species. Empirical observations support all these hypotheses. There can be no doubt that genetic variation is related to population size, as Soule proposed. Small population size reduces the evolutionary potential of wildlife species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1500-1508
Number of pages9
JournalConservation Biology
Volume10
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1996

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