Conservation Genetics

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 355–373 | Cite as

Estimation of census and effective population sizes: the increasing usefulness of DNA-based approaches

  • Gordon LuikartEmail author
  • Nils Ryman
  • David A. Tallmon
  • Michael K. Schwartz
  • Fred W. Allendorf


Population census size (N C) and effective population sizes (N e) are two crucial parameters that influence population viability, wildlife management decisions, and conservation planning. Genetic estimators of both N C and N e are increasingly widely used because molecular markers are increasingly available, statistical methods are improving rapidly, and genetic estimators complement or improve upon traditional demographic estimators. We review the kinds and applications of estimators of both N C and N e, and the often undervalued and misunderstood ratio of effective-to-census size (N e /N C). We focus on recently improved and well evaluated methods that are most likely to facilitate conservation. Finally, we outline areas of future research to improve N e and N C estimation in wild populations.


Population size estimation Noninvasive sampling Remote genetic monitoring Abundance Bottleneck Ne/NC ratio Habitat fragmentation 



This article is based partially on work supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation Grant DEB 074218 to F.W.A, and G.L. G.L. was supported by the Portuguese-American Science Foundation, CIBIO-UP, the National Park Service (USA) and research grant PTDC/BIA-BDE/65625/2006 from the Portuguese Science Foundation (FCT). We thank R. Waples and R. Harris for many helpful citations and comments, and P. Taberlet for the citation on PCR-based aging of birds. Some ideas here arose from the Genetic Monitoring Working Group jointly supported by the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NSF #EF-0423641) and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, a Center funded by NSF (NSF #EF-0553768), the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the State of California. This work also benefited from association with the ESF Science Networking Programme ConGen.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gordon Luikart
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Nils Ryman
    • 4
  • David A. Tallmon
    • 5
  • Michael K. Schwartz
    • 6
  • Fred W. Allendorf
    • 1
    • 7
  1. 1.Division of Biological SciencesUniversity of MontanaMissoulaUSA
  2. 2.Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos and Universidade doVairãoPortugal
  3. 3.Flathead Lake Biological Station, University of MontanaPolsonUSA
  4. 4.Division of Population Genetics, Department of ZoologyUniversity of StockholmStockholmSweden
  5. 5.Biology and Marine Biology ProgramsUniversity of Alaska SoutheastJuneauUSA
  6. 6.USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research StationMissoulaUSA
  7. 7.School of Biological SciencesVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand

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