Biodiversity at the molecular genetic level: experiences from disparate macroorganisms.

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Genetic variation is the basis of adaptive flexibility in populations and is the ultimate evolutionary basis of much species and community-level diversity. Accordingly, the preservation and maintenance of genetic diversity has a high priority in many conservation programmes. This paper discusses how genetic diversity is measured at the molecular level, including some newer measures made possible with restriction site or DNA sequence data as well as the development of a phylogenetic approach to assessing the significance of genetic variation within a species. These measures of genetic diversity are then used to re-examine the validity of the 50/500 rule of conservation biology; a rule that states that populations should have no fewer than 50 individuals for short-term maintenance of genetic variation and no fewer than 500 individuals for long-term maintenance. Both the 50 and 500 parts of this rule are found to be invalid and frequently misleading. Instead of invoking 'universal' rules, conservation biologists should recognize the role of biodiversity in management policies. Not all species are the same, and we need more research and a willingness to try novel approaches rather than naively apply a 'rule' that has no demonstrable generality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-64
Number of pages6
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1311
StatePublished - 29 Jul 1994
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 1994 The Royal Society.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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