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Encyclopedia > Viable population

Species with a small population size are subject to a higher chance of extinction because their small population size makes them more vulnerable to genetic drift, resulting in stochastic variation in their gene pool, their demography and their environment. In biology, a species is a kind of organism. ... In biology and ecology, extinction is the ceasing of existence of a species or group of species. ... Genetic drift is a mechanism of evolution that acts in concert with natural selection to change the characteristics of species over time. ... Greg Flesch is a guitarist and musician, best known for his work with the rock bands Daniel Amos and The Swirling Eddies (credited as Gene Pool). Flesch also works in the Atmospheric Laser Spectroscopy Group at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, writing software for the groups tunable... Demography is the study of human population dynamics. ...


Demographic effects

The influence of stochastic (random) variation in demographic (reproductive and mortality) rates is much higher for small populations than large ones. Stochastic variation in demographic rates causes small populations to fluctuate randomly in size. The smaller the population the greater the probability that fluctuations will lead to extinction.

One demographic consequence of a small population size, the probability that all offspring in a generation are of the same sex, is easy to calculate: it is given by 1 / 2n − 1 (The chance of all animals being females is 1 / 2n, the same holds for all males, thus the equation). This can be a problem in very small populations. In 1977, the last 18 Kakapo on a Fiordland island in New Zealand were all male, though the probability of this was only 0.0000076. With a population of just 3 individuals the probability of them all being the same sex is 0.25. Put another way, for every 4 species reduced to 3 individuals (or more precisely 3 individuals in the effective population), one will go extinct just because they are all the same sex. Binomial name Strigops habroptilus Gray,GR, 1845 The Kakapo (Maori for night parrot), Strigops habroptilus (owl-faced soft feathers), is a species of nocturnal parrot endemic to New Zealand. ... Fiordland is situated on the south-western corner of the South Island of New Zealand. ...

Environmental effects

Stochastic variation in the environment (year to year variation in rainfall, temperature) can produce temporally correlated birth and death rates (i.e. 'good' years when birth rates are high and death rates are low and 'bad' years when birth rates are low and death rates are high) that lead to fluctuations in the population size. Again, smaller populations are more likely to go extinct due to these environmentally generated population fluctuations than are large populations.

Genetic consequences

Conservationists are often worried about a loss of genetic variation in small populations. There are 2 types of genetic variation that are important when dealing with small populations.

  • The degree of homozygosity within individuals in a population; i.e. the proportion of an individuals loci that contain homozygous rather than heterozygous alleles. Many deleterious alleles are only harmful in the homozygous form.
  • The degree of monomorphism/polymorphism within a population; i.e. how many different forms of the same allele exist in the gene pool of a population. Polymorphism may be particularly important at loci involved in the immune response.

There are 2 mechanisms operating in small populations that influence these 2 types of genetic variation. Homozygote cells are diploid or polyploid and have the same alleles at a locus (position) on homologous chromosomes. ... Heterozygote cells are diploid or polyploid and have different alleles at a locus (position) on homologous chromosomes. ... An allele is any one of a number of alternative forms of the same gene occupying a given locus (position) on a chromosome. ...

  • Genetic drift - Genetic variation is determined by the joint action of natural selection and genetic drift (chance). In small populations the relative importance of genetic drift (chance) is higher; deleterious alleles can become more frequent and 'fixed' in a population due to chance. Any allele, deleterious, beneficial or neutral is more likely to be lost from a small population (gene pool) than a large one. This results in a reduction in the number of forms of alleles in a small population and in extreme cases to monomorphism where there is only one form of the allele. Continued fixation of deleterious alleles in small populations is called Muller's ratchet, and can lead to mutational meltdown.
  • Inbreeding - In a small population, related individuals are more likely to breed together. The offspring of related parents have a far higher number of homozygous loci than the offspring of unrelated parents.

There are two types of consequence of loss of genetic variation in small populations: Genetic drift is a mechanism of evolution that acts in concert with natural selection to change the characteristics of species over time. ... Natural selection is the primary mechanism within the scientific theory of evolution, in that it alters the frequency of alleles within a population. ... In genetics, Mullers ratchet is a hypothesis that explains how functionally important genes may be lost when organisms genes are only transmitted vertically, without recombination caused by sex. ... Mutational meltdown refers to the process by which a small population accumulates deleterious mutations, which leads to loss of fitness and decline of the population size, which leads to further accumulation of deleterious mutations. ... Inbreeding is breeding between close relatives. ...

  • Inbreeding depression - Inbreeding depression is usually taken to mean any immediate harmful effect, on individuals or the population, of a decrease in either type of genetic variation. Despite the strong theoretical support for inbreeding depression it has been very difficult to prove in real populations and there is debate over its significance.
  • Inability of the population to adapt/evolve to changing conditions, “without variability evolution is impossible”

The effective population size is commonly lower than the actual population size.

See also

Topics in population genetics
Key concepts: Hardy-Weinberg law | Fisher's fundamental theorem | neutral theory
Selection: natural | sexual | artificial | ecological
Genetic drift: small population size | population bottleneck | founder effect
Founders: Ronald Fisher | J.B.S. Haldane | Sewall Wright
Related topics: evolution | microevolution | evolutionary game theory | fitness landscape
List of evolutionary biology topics

  Results from FactBites:
Minimum Viable Population - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (479 words)
Minimum Viable Population (MVP) is a statistical estimate used in the branches of biology, ecology and conservation biology.
The exact quantity depends on the circumstances of the population and the exact model used, but the MVP is usually given with a population survival probability of somewhere between ninety and ninety-five percent and calculated for between one hundred and one thousand years, respectively.
It is said in such a situation that the panda population is large enough to recover from or to "buffer" the effects of stochastic events.
Population bottleneck - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (780 words)
A population bottleneck (or genetic bottleneck) is an evolutionary event in which a significant percentage of a population or species is killed or otherwise prevented from reproducing, and the population is reduced by 50% or more, often by several orders of magnitude.
Population bottlenecks increase genetic drift, as the rate of drift is inversely proportional to the population size.
A classic example of a population bottleneck is that of the Northern Elephant Seals, whose population fell to about 30 in the 1890s although it now numbers in the tens of thousands.
  More results at FactBites »



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