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Heredity (Edinb). 2005 Oct;95(4):255-73.

Genetic resource impacts of habitat loss and degradation; reconciling empirical evidence and predicted theory for neotropical trees.

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School of Integrative Biology, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia.


The theoretical impacts of anthropogenic habitat degradation on genetic resources have been well articulated. Here we use a simulation approach to assess the magnitude of expected genetic change, and review 31 studies of 23 neotropical tree species to assess whether empirical case studies conform to theory. Major differences in the sensitivity of measures to detect the genetic health of degraded populations were obvious. Most studies employing genetic diversity (nine out of 13) found no significant consequences, yet most that assessed progeny inbreeding (six out of eight), reproductive output (seven out of 10) and fitness (all six) highlighted significant impacts. These observations are in line with theory, where inbreeding is observed immediately following impact, but genetic diversity is lost slowly over subsequent generations, which for trees may take decades. Studies also highlight the ecological, not just genetic, consequences of habitat degradation that can cause reduced seed set and progeny fitness. Unexpectedly, two studies examining pollen flow using paternity analysis highlight an extensive network of gene flow at smaller spatial scales (less than 10 km). Gene flow can thus mitigate against loss of genetic diversity and assist in long-term population viability, even in degraded landscapes. Unfortunately, the surveyed studies were too few and heterogeneous to examine concepts of population size thresholds and genetic resilience in relation to life history. Future suggested research priorities include undertaking integrated studies on a range of species in the same landscapes; better documentation of the extent and duration of impact; and most importantly, combining neutral marker, pollination dynamics, ecological consequences, and progeny fitness assessment within single studies.

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