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Patterns of Genetic Diversity and Its Loss in Mammalian Populations

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Abstract:  Policy aimed at conserving biodiversity has focused on species diversity. Loss of genetic diversity, however, can affect population persistence, evolutionary potential, and individual fitness. Although mammals are a well‐studied taxonomic group, a comprehensive assessment of mammalian genetic diversity based on modern molecular markers is lacking. We examined published microsatellite data from populations of 108 mammalian species to evaluate background patterns of genetic variability across taxa and body masses. We tested for loss of genetic diversity at the population level by asking whether populations that experienced demographic threats exhibited lower levels of genetic diversity. We also evaluated the effect of ascertainment bias (a reduction in variability when microsatellite primers are transferred across species) on our assessment of genetic diversity. Heterozygosity did not vary with body mass across species ranging in size from shrews to whales. Differences across taxonomic groupings were noted at the highest level, between populations of marsupial and placental mammals. We documented consistently lower heterozygosity, however, in populations that had experienced demographic threats across a wide range of mammalian species. We also documented a significant (p = 0.01) reduction in heterozygosity as a result of ascertainment bias. Our results suggest that populations of both rare and common mammals are currently losing genetic diversity and that conservation efforts focused above the population level may fail to protect the breadth of persisting genetic diversity. Conservation policy makers may need to focus their efforts below the species level to stem further losses of genetic resources.
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Language: English

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844, U.S.A.

Publication date: August 1, 2005

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