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Keywords:

  • genetic diversity;
  • inbreeding rate;
  • selection

Abstract

The extent to which genetic diversity is lost from inbred populations is important for conservation biology, evolutionary ecology, and plant and animal breeding. This importance stems from the fact that the amount of genetic diversity a population has is expected to correlate with evolutionary potential. A population’s ability to avert extinction during rapidly changing environmental conditions, or the magnitude of response to selection on a trait, depend on the ability of the genome to maintain potentially adaptive genetic variation in the face of random genetic drift. Although a few previous studies have demonstrated that the rate of inbreeding affects the amount of genetic diversity maintained, the elegant work of Demontis et al., in this issue, clearly demonstrates that slow inbreeding maintains more genetic diversity than fast inbreeding and that the primary mechanism could be balancing selection. In their study, populations that took 19 generations, rather than one generation, to reach the same level of inbreeding maintained 10% higher levels of allelic richness and 25% higher levels of heterozygosity. The use of specifically chosen molecular markers not expected to be neutral makes this study especially noteworthy, as the study provides evidence concerning the mechanisms underlying the maintenance of genetic diversity in the face of inbreeding.