Environmental Stress, Adaptation and Evolution

Volume 83 of the series Experientia Supplementum pp 193-207

Genetic and environmental stress, and the persistence of populations

  • R. BijlsmaAffiliated withDepartment of Genetics, University of Groningen
  • , Jørgen BundgaardAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology and Genetics, University of Aarhus
  • , Anneke C. BoeremaAffiliated withDepartment of Genetics, University of Groningen
  • , Welam F. Van PuttenAffiliated withDepartment of Genetics, University of Groningen

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Many populations of endangered species have to cope both with stressful and deteriorating environmental conditions (mostly the primary cause of the endangerment) and with an increase in homozygosity due to genetic drift and/or inbreeding in small isolated populations. The latter will result in genetic stress often accompanied by a decrease in fitness (inbreeding depression). We have studied the consequences of genetic stress, under optimal as well as stressful environmental conditions, for the fitness and persistence of small populations using Drosophila melanogaster as a model system. The results show that, already under optimal environmental conditions, an increase in homozygosity or inbreeding both impairs fitness and increases the extinction risk of populations significantly. Under environmental stress, however, these effects become greatly enhanced. More important, the results show that the impact of environmental stress becomes significantly greater for higher inbreeding levels. This explicitly demonstrates that genetic and environmental stress are not independent but can act synergistically. This apparent interaction may have important consequences for the conservation of endangered species.