Broken barriers: Human-induced changes to gene flow and introgression in animals

An examination of the ways in which humans increase genetic exchange among populations and species and the consequences for biodiversity



We identify two processes by which humans increase genetic exchange among groups of individuals: by affecting the distribution of groups and dispersal patterns across a landscape, and by affecting interbreeding among sympatric or parapatric groups. Each of these processes might then have two different effects on biodiversity: changes in the number of taxa through merging or splitting of groups, and the extinction/extirpation of taxa through effects on fitness. We review the various ways in which humans are affecting genetic exchange, and highlight the difficulties in predicting the impacts on biodiversity. Gene flow and hybridization are crucially important evolutionary forces influencing biodiversity. Humans alter natural patterns of genetic exchange in myriad ways, and these anthropogenic effects are likely to influence the genetic integrity of populations and species. We argue that taking a gene-centric view towards conservation will help resolve issues pertaining to conservation and management.

Editor's suggested further reading in BioEssays A systemic view of biodiversity and its conservation: Processes, interrelationships, and human culture Abstract