Genetic variation, inbreeding and chemical exposure--combined effects in wildlife and critical considerations for ecotoxicology

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Nov 27;364(1534):3377-90. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2009.0126.


Exposure to environmental chemicals can have negative consequences for wildlife and even cause localized population extinctions. Resistance to chemical stress, however, can evolve and the mechanisms include desensitized target sites, reduced chemical uptake and increased metabolic detoxification and sequestration. Chemical resistance in wildlife populations can also arise independently of exposure and may be spread by gene flow between populations. Inbreeding-matings between closely related individuals-can have negative fitness consequences for natural populations, and there is evidence of inbreeding depression in many wildlife populations. In some cases, reduced fitness in inbred populations has been shown to be exacerbated under chemical stress. In chemical testing, both inbred and outbred laboratory animals are used and for human safety assessments, iso-genic strains (virtual clones) of mice and rats are often employed that reduce response variation, the number of animals used and associated costs. In contrast, for environmental risk assessment, strains of animals are often used that have been selectively bred to maintain heterozygosity, with the assumption that they are better able to predict adverse effects in wild, genetically variable, animals. This may not necessarily be the case however, as one outbred strain may not be representative of another or of a wild population. In this paper, we critically discuss relationships between genetic variation, inbreeding and chemical effects with the intention of seeking to support more effective chemical testing for the protection of wildlife.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild / genetics*
  • Ecotoxicology / methods*
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Inbreeding*


  • Environmental Pollutants