Conservation genetics: beyond the maintenance of marker diversity


  • The authors' research centres on extracting demographic and evolutionary information from patterns of molecular variation found in samples of natural populations. We are developing genealogical analysis techniques and applying them to study effective population size, gene flow among populations, and introgression between species of plants.

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One of the major problems faced by conservation biologists is the allocation of scarce resources to an overwhelmingly large number of species in need of preservation efforts. Both demographic and genetic information have been brought to bear on this problem; however, the role of information obtained from genetic markers has largely been limited to the characterization of gene frequencies and patterns of diversity. While the genetic consequences of rarity may be a contributing factor to endangerment, it is widely recognized that demographic factors often may be more important. Because patterns of genetic marker variation are influenced by the same demographic factors of interest to the conservation biologist, it is possible to extract useful demographic information from genetic marker data. Such an approach may be productive for determining plant mating systems, inbreeding depression, effective population size, and metapopulation structure. In many cases, however, data consisting only of marker frequencies are inadequate for these purposes. Development of genealogical based analytical methods coupled with studies of DNA sequence variation within and among populations is likely to yield the most information on demographic processes from genetic marker data. Indeed, in some cases it may be the only means of obtaining information on the long-term demographic properties that may be most useful for determining the future prospects of a species of interest.