Ex situ conservation genetics: a review of molecular studies on the genetic consequences of captive breeding programmes for endangered animal species

Witzenberger, Kathrin A.; Hochkirch, Axel
August 2011
Biodiversity & Conservation;Aug2011, Vol. 20 Issue 9, p1843
Academic Journal
Captive breeding has become an important tool in species conservation programmes. Current management strategies for ex situ populations are based on theoretical models, which have mainly been tested in model species or assessed using studbook data. During recent years an increasing number of molecular genetic studies have been published on captive populations of several endangered species. However, a comprehensive analysis of these studies is still outstanding. Here, we present a review of the published literature on ex situ conservation genetics with a focus on molecular studies. We analysed 188 publications which either presented empirical studies using molecular markers (105), studbook analyses (26), theoretical work (38), or tested the genetic effects of management strategies using model species (19). The results show that inbreeding can be minimized by a thorough management of captive populations. There seems to be a minimum number of founders (15) and a minimum size of a captive population (100) necessary in order to minimize a loss of genetic diversity. Optimally, the founders should be unrelated and new founders should be integrated into the captive population successively. We recommend that genetic analyses should generally precede and accompany ex situ conservation projects in order to avoid inbreeding and outbreeding depression. Furthermore, many of the published studies do not provide all the relevant parameters (founder size, captive population size, H, H, inbreeding coefficients). We, therefore, propose that a general standard for the presentation of genetic studies should be established, which would allow integration of the data into a global database.


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