What is conservation genetics

Conservation genetics is the concept and practise of genetics for the protection of species as ever changing individuals capable of evolving to survive environmental change to minimise their extinction risk (Frankham et al. 2005). A number of techniques have made the new subject of conservation genetics possible which comprises population genetics, systematics, molecular ecology and evolutionary biology (Avise et al. 1997). The field of conservation genetics is growing rapidly and combines genetic data with biological concepts to advance the management of threatened, vulnerable and endangered species (Bertorelle et al. 2004). Conservation genetics highlights the detrimental effects of inbreeding on the ‘’survival of species, the loss of genetic diversity, the ability of a species to adapt in response to changes in the environment, the reduction in gene flow and the fragmentation of populations, the determination of taxonomic uncertainties, and the defining of management units within a species (Frankham et al. 2005)’’.

It is vital to understand the demographic history of a population when making informed, responsible management decisions (Beaumont & Bruford 1999). An understanding of a population’s genetic structure is imperative if one is to retain an accurate representation of the population’s genetic diversity (Frantzen et al. 1998). When considering conservation genetics as a management tool it is advised to use Futuyma’s (1998) definition of a population: “A group of conspecific organisms that occupy a more or less well-defined geographical region and exhibit reproductive continuity from generation to generation.”

The movement of individuals between populations has the potential to increase the species’ genetic variability and have the knock on effect of aiding the avoidance of inbreeding. ‘’However this raises questions such as which populations should be used to source individuals for translocations, and which should be maintained as genetically distinct (Beaumont & Bruford 1999).’’