Conservation genetics and evolution in an endangered species: research in Sonoran topminnows


  • Dedicated to the memory of ‘Minck’ Minckley, a wonderful colleague and advocate for native fishes.

Phil Hedrick, School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287, USA.
Tel.: +1 480 965 0799;
fax: +1 480 965 2519;


Conservation genetics of endangered species has primarily focused on using neutral markers to determine units of conservation and estimating evolutionary parameters. Because the endangered Sonoran topminnow can be bred in the laboratory and has a relatively short generation length, experiments to examine both detrimental and adaptive variations are also possible. Here, we discuss over two decades of empirical and experimental observations in the Sonoran topminnow. Results from this research have been used to determine species and evolutionary significant units using neutral markers, document inbreeding and outbreeding depression and genetic load using experimental crosses, and measure adaptive differences in fitness-related traits and variation in pathogen resistance among populations and major histocompatibility complex genotypes. In addition, both premating and postmating reproductive isolation between Gila and Yaqui topminnows have been experimentally determined, and the predicted and observed ancestry of these two species in experimental crosses has been examined over time. Although some have suggested that endangered species are unsuitable for experimentation because of both practical and ethical considerations, these results demonstrate that in this case an endangered species can be employed to examine fundamental questions in conservation and evolution.