Relationships between population size and loss of genetic diversity: comparisons of experimental results with theoretical predictions

Margaret E. Montgomery, Lynn M. Woodworth, Roderick K. Nurthen, Dean M. Gilligan, David A. Briscoe, Richard Frankham

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    88 Citations (Scopus)


    Preservation of genetic diversity is of fundamental concern to conservation biology, as genetic diversity is required for evolutionary change. Predictions of neutral theory are used to guide conservation actions, especially genetic management of captive populations of endangered species. Loss of heterozygosity is predicted to be inversely related to effective population size. However, there is controversy as to whether allozymes behave as predicted by this theory. Loss of genetic diversity for seven allozyme loci, chromosome II inversions and morphological mutations was investigated in 23 Drosophila melanogaster populations, maintained at effective population sizes of 25 (8 replicates), 50 (6), 100 (4), 250 (3) and 500 (2) for 50 generations. Allozyme genetic diversity (heterozygosity, percent polymorphism and allelic diversity), inversions and morphological mutations were all lost at greater rates in smaller than larger populations. Conservation concerns about loss of genetic diversity in small populations are clearly warranted. Across our populations, loss of allozyme heterozygosity over generations 0-24, 0-49 and 25-49 did not differ from the predictions of neutral theory. The trend in deviations was always in the direction expected with associative overdominance. Our results support the use of neutral theory to guide conservation actions, such as the genetic management of endangered species in captivity.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)33-43
    Number of pages11
    JournalConservation Genetics
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2000


    • allozymes
    • effective population size
    • Drosophila melanogaster
    • genetic diversity
    • inversions


    Dive into the research topics of 'Relationships between population size and loss of genetic diversity: comparisons of experimental results with theoretical predictions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this