Between a rock and a hard place: evaluating the relative risks of inbreeding and outbreeding for conservation and management


Suzanne Edmands, Fax: 213-740-8123; E-mail:


As populations become increasingly fragmented, managers are often faced with the dilemma that intentional hybridization might save a population from inbreeding depression but it might also induce outbreeding depression. While empirical evidence for inbreeding depression is vastly greater than that for outbreeding depression, the available data suggest that risks of outbreeding, particularly in the second generation, are on par with the risks of inbreeding. Predicting the relative risks in any particular situation is complicated by variation among taxa, characters being measured, level of divergence between hybridizing populations, mating history, environmental conditions and the potential for inbreeding and outbreeding effects to be occurring simultaneously. Further work on consequences of interpopulation hybridization is sorely needed with particular emphasis on the taxonomic scope, the duration of fitness problems and the joint effects of inbreeding and outbreeding. Meanwhile, managers can minimize the risks of both inbreeding and outbreeding by using intentional hybridization only for populations clearly suffering from inbreeding depression, maximizing the genetic and adaptive similarity between populations, and testing the effects of hybridization for at least two generations whenever possible.