Predicting the deleterious effects of mutation load in fragmented populations

Conserv Biol. 2009 Feb;23(1):207-18. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.01052.x. Epub 2008 Sep 25.


Human-induced habitat fragmentation constitutes a major threat to biodiversity. Both genetic and demographic factors combine to drive small and isolated populations into extinction vortices. Nevertheless, the deleterious effects of inbreeding and drift load may depend on population structure, migration patterns, and mating systems and are difficult to predict in the absence of crossing experiments. We performed stochastic individual-based simulations aimed at predicting the effects of deleterious mutations on population fitness (offspring viability and median time to extinction) under a variety of settings (landscape configurations, migration models, and mating systems) on the basis of easy-to-collect demographic and genetic information. Pooling all simulations, a large part (70%) of variance in offspring viability was explained by a combination of genetic structure (F(ST)) and within-deme heterozygosity (H(S)). A similar part of variance in median time to extinction was explained by a combination of local population size (N) and heterozygosity (H(S)). In both cases the predictive power increased above 80% when information on mating systems was available. These results provide robust predictive models to evaluate the viability prospects of fragmented populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biodiversity*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Ecosystem*
  • Extinction, Biological
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Mutation / genetics*
  • Population Density
  • Population Dynamics
  • Reproduction / physiology
  • Time Factors