Inbreeding–environment interactions increase extinction risk


David H. Reed, Biology Department, University of Mississippi, University, MS 38677, USA.


Being able to accurately estimate the persistence time of populations of endangered plants and animals is central to conservation biology and is of considerable importance in informing land-use decisions. Genetic deterioration (due to inbreeding and random genetic drift) and environmental deterioration (e.g. climate change, pollution and introduced species) clearly contribute to population extinction, however, considerable recent evidence suggests that interactions between genetic deterioration and environmental stress are ubiquitous. The importance of these interactions for potentially reducing persistence times has not been quantified and has not been taken into account by major conservation organizations. Using a computer simulation, we determined that including reasonable estimates of the inbreeding–environment interaction reduces persistence times by 17.5–28.5% (mean=23%) for a wide range of carrying capacities, assumptions concerning the number of lethal equivalents and different regimes for the frequency and magnitude of the stressful environment. We note that the proportional decrease in persistence time with inclusion of the interactions becomes larger (i.e. the interaction becomes more important) as absolute time to extinction gets larger. Thus, inclusion of the interaction is important and surprisingly may be most needed when populations are of intermediate size and are considered relatively safe from environmental and genetic stresses acting independently.