, Volume 86, Issue 3, pp 359–367 | Cite as

The significance of genetic erosion in the process of extinction

II. Morphological variation and fitness components in populations of varying size of Salvia pratensis L. and Scabiosa columbaria L.
  • N. J. Ouborg
  • R. van Treuren
  • J. M. M. van Damme
Original Papers


The amount of genetic variation within a population is, among other things, related to population size. In small populations loss of genetic variation due to high levels of genetic drift and inbreeding may result in decline of individual fitness and increase the chance of population extinction. This chain of processes is known as genetic erosion. In this study we tested the genetic erosion hypothesis by investigating the relation between morphological variation and population size in two perennial, outbreeding plant species, Salvia pratensis and Scabiosa columbaria. To relate phenotypic variation to genetic variation the experiments were performed under common environmental conditions. For both species a positive correlation was observed between the amount of phenotypic variation and population size (Salvia r=0.915; Scabiosa r=0.703). Part of this variation is likely to have a genetic base, although maternal effects were present in the seedling and juvenile life stages. Differences between populations could in both species be attributed to parameters related to fitness, i.e. growth rate in Salvia and reproductive effort in Scabiosa. Discriminant functions reflecting these parameters did not however discriminate between large and small populations.

Results are discussed in relation to the common environment approach and to electrophoretic results obtained earlier (Van Treuren et al. 1991).

Key words

Genetic erosion Fitness Maternal effects Salvia pratensis Scabiosa columbaria 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • N. J. Ouborg
    • 1
  • R. van Treuren
    • 2
  • J. M. M. van Damme
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Plant EcologyInstitute for Ecological ResearchHeterenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of GeneticsUniversity of GroningenHarenThe Netherlands

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