Evaluating the outcomes of genetic rescue attempts

Zachary L. Robinson, Donovan A. Bell, Tashi Dhendup, Gordon Luikart, Andrew R. Whiteley, Marty Kardos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Augmenting gene flow is a powerful tool for the conservation of small, isolated populations. However, genetic rescue attempts have largely been limited to populations at the brink of extinction, in part due to concerns over negative outcomes (e.g., outbreeding depression). Increasing habitat fragmentation may necessitate more proactive genetic management. Broader application of augmented gene flow will, in turn, require rigorous evaluation to increase confidence and identify pitfalls in this approach. To date, there has been no assessment of best monitoring practices for genetic rescue attempts. We used genomically explicit, individual-based simulations to examine the effectiveness of common approaches (i.e., tests for increases in fitness, migrant ancestry, heterozygosity, and abundance) for determining whether genetic rescue or outbreeding depression occurred. Statistical power to detect the effects of gene flow on fitness was high (≥0.8) when effect sizes were large, a finding consistent with those from previous studies on severely inbred populations. However, smaller effects of gene flow on fitness can appreciably affect persistence probability but current evaluation approaches fail to provide results from which reliable inferences can be drawn. The power of the metrics we examined to evaluate genetic rescue attempts depended on the time since gene flow and whether gene flow was beneficial or deleterious. Encouragingly, the use of multiple metrics provided nonredundant information and improved inference reliability, highlighting the importance of intensive monitoring efforts. Further development of best practices for evaluating genetic rescue attempts will be crucial for a responsible transition to increased use of translocations to decrease extinction risk.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)666-677
Number of pages12
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • depresión endogámica
  • depresión exogámica
  • extinción
  • extinction
  • flujo génico
  • fragmentación de hábitat
  • gene flow
  • genetic rescue
  • habitat fragmentation
  • inbreeding depression
  • outbreeding depression
  • rescate genético
  • reubicaciones
  • translocations


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