Inbreeding depression in conservation biology

P. W. Hedrick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

717 Scopus citations


Inbreeding depression is of major concern in the management and conservation of endangered species. Inbreeding appears universally to reduce fitness, but its magnitude and specific effects are highly variable because they depend on the genetic constitution of the species or populations and on how these genotypes interact with the environment. Recent natural experiments are consistent with greater inbreeding depression in more stressful environments. In small populations of randomly mating individuals, such as are characteristic of many endangered species, all individuals may suffer from inbreeding depression because of the cumulative effects of genetic drift that decrease the fitness of all individuals in the population. In three recent cases, introductions into populations with low fitness appeared to restore fitness to levels similar to those before the effects of genetic drift. Inbreeding depression may potentially be reduced, or purged, by breeding related individuals. However, the Speke's gazelle example, often cited as a demonstration of reduction of inbreeding depression, appears to be the result of a temporal change in fitness in inbred individuals and not a reduction in inbreeding depression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-162
Number of pages24
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology and Systematics
StatePublished - 2000


  • Endangered species
  • Extinction
  • Fitness
  • Genetic restoration
  • Purging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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