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Trends Ecol Evol. 2012 Oct;27(10):578-84. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2012.07.001. Epub 2012 Aug 4.

How does the 50/500 rule apply to MVPs?

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Allan Wilson Centre, Department of Zoology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.


The 50/500 rule has been used as a guiding principle in conservation for assessing minimum viable effective population size (N(e)). There is much confusion in the recent literature about how the 500 value should be applied to assess extinction risk and set priorities in conservation biology. Here, we argue that the confusion arises when the genetic basis for a short-term N(e) of 50 to avoid inbreeding depression is used to justify a long-term N(e) of 500 to maintain evolutionary potential. This confusion can result in misleading conclusions about how genetic arguments alone are sufficient to set minimum viable population (MVP) thresholds for assessing the extinction risk of threatened species, especially those that emphasize that MVPs should be in the thousands to maintain evolutionary potential.

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