, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 33-43

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

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Preservation of genetic diversity is of fundamental concern toconservation biology, as genetic diversity is required for evolutionarychange. Predictions of neutral theory are used to guide conservationactions, especially genetic management of captive populations ofendangered species. Loss of heterozygosity is predicted to be inverselyrelated to effective population size. However, there is controversy asto whether allozymes behave as predicted by this theory. Loss of geneticdiversity for seven allozyme loci, chromosome II inversions andmorphological mutations was investigated in 23 Drosophilamelanogaster populations, maintained at effective population sizesof 25 (8 replicates), 50 (6), 100 (4), 250 (3) and 500 (2) for 50generations. Allozyme genetic diversity (heterozygosity, percentpolymorphism and allelic diversity), inversions and morphologicalmutations were all lost at greater rates in smaller than largerpopulations. Conservation concerns about loss of genetic diversity insmall populations are clearly warranted. Across our populations, loss ofallozyme heterozygosity over generations 0–24, 0–49 and25–49 did not differ from the predictions of neutral theory. Thetrend in deviations was always in the direction expected withassociative overdominance. Our results support the use of neutral theoryto guide conservation actions, such as the genetic management ofendangered species in captivity.