Revealing life-history traits by contrasting genetic estimations with predictions of effective population size

Gili Greenbaum, Sharon Renan, Alan R. Templeton, Amos Bouskila, David Saltz, Daniel I. Rubenstein, Shirli Bar-David

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Effective population size, a central concept in conservation biology, is now routinely estimated from genetic surveys and can also be theoretically predicted from demographic, life-history, and mating-system data. By evaluating the consistency of theoretical predictions with empirically estimated effective size, insights can be gained regarding life-history characteristics and the relative impact of different life-history traits on genetic drift. These insights can be used to design and inform management strategies aimed at increasing effective population size. We demonstrated this approach by addressing the conservation of a reintroduced population of Asiatic wild ass (Equus hemionus). We estimated the variance effective size (Nev) from genetic data ((Formula presented.)) and formulated predictions for the impacts on Nev of demography, polygyny, female variance in lifetime reproductive success (RS), and heritability of female RS. By contrasting the genetic estimation with theoretical predictions, we found that polygyny was the strongest factor affecting genetic drift because only when accounting for polygyny were predictions consistent with the genetically measured Nev. The comparison of effective-size estimation and predictions indicated that 10.6% of the males mated per generation when heritability of female RS was unaccounted for (polygyny responsible for 81% decrease in Nev) and 19.5% mated when female RS was accounted for (polygyny responsible for 67% decrease in Nev). Heritability of female RS also affected Nev; (Formula presented.) (heritability responsible for 41% decrease in Nev). The low effective size is of concern, and we suggest that management actions focus on factors identified as strongly affecting (Formula presented.), namely, increasing the availability of artificial water sources to increase number of dominant males contributing to the gene pool. This approach, evaluating life-history hypotheses in light of their impact on effective population size, and contrasting predictions with genetic measurements, is a general, applicable strategy that can be used to inform conservation practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)817-827
Number of pages11
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Society for Conservation Biology


  • Equus hemionus
  • heredabilidad
  • heritability
  • mating system
  • método de apareamiento
  • poliginia
  • polygyny
  • reproductive success
  • tamaño poblacional
  • variance effective population size
  • varianza efectiva
  • éxito reproductivo
  • 亚洲野驴 (Equus hemionus), 遗传力一雄多雌, 婚配制度, 繁殖成功率, 方差有效种群大小

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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