The current rate of species extinction is rapidly approaching unprecedented highs, and life on Earth presently faces a sixth mass extinction event driven by anthropogenic activity, climate change, and ecological collapse. The field of conservation genetics aims at preserving species by using their levels of genetic diversity, usually measured as neutral genome-wide diversity, as a barometer for evaluating population health and extinction risk. A fundamental assumption is that higher levels of genetic diversity lead to an increase in fitness and long-term survival of a species. Here, we argue against the perceived importance of neutral genetic diversity for the conservation of wild populations and species. We demonstrate that no simple general relationship exists between neutral genetic diversity and the risk of species extinction. Instead, a better understanding of the properties of functional genetic diversity, demographic history, and ecological relationships is necessary for developing and implementing effective conservation genetic strategies.
|Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
|Published - Mar 9 2021
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