Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats

Genetics in conservation and wildlife management: a revolution since Caughley

Stephen D. Sarre A B and Arthur Georges A

A Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email: sarre@aerg.canberra.edu.au

Wildlife Research 36(1) 70-80 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WR08066
Submitted: 6 May 2008  Accepted: 24 October 2008   Published: 21 January 2009


In his 1994 review of conservation biology, Graeme Caughley questioned the central role for genetics in that discipline. His central theme was that there was no known case of genetic malfunction leading to the extinction of a population or species, and that driving forces such as overkill, habitat fragmentation and introduced predators as well as environmental and demographic stochasticity of small populations should be considered ahead of genetics in the debate about extinction prevention. At the time, only indirect and theoretical evidence existed for genetic contributions to the declines of wildlife and most of the debate revolved around the impact of genetic variation on fitness and long-term persistence. In addition, the application of DNA technologies to the study of wildlife was in its infancy. Though this was not Caughley’s intention, many within wildlife management took his criticisms of genetic aspects of species decline as the cue to dismiss this branch of science as of minor relevance to conservation biology. Since Caughley’s critique, there has been a revolution in genetic technologies for non-model organisms with the arrival of highly informative hypervariable DNA markers. Perhaps even more importantly, developments in DNA and gene technologies have provided the opportunity to study fundamental life-history traits such as disease resistance in more direct ways than previously possible. In concert with these tools, conservation geneticists have risen to Caughley’s challenge and demonstrated unambiguously a clear role for genetic analysis in conservation biology. Despite these impressive advances, there remains an important gap between the genetic approaches available and their uptake by managers. Bridging this gap will greatly increase the capacity of wildlife managers to generate the data necessary for sound management.


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