The genetics of fragmented populations

The conservation of genetic diversity is one major goal of species protection. This goal involves the long-term conservation of the habitat of a species. There exists a strong correlation between habitat conditions and genetic diversity. Both size and quality of a habitat are important parameters for determination of high or low diversity. But how can one predict the evolution of the genetic diversity of a population? At BFW experts for genetics like Dr.Christoph Dobe¨ developed a computer simulation which is intended to strengthen the understanding of this complex question.

Simulation as tool

Gene flow or genetic drift? Permanent maintenance or extinction? These key processes and terms of  population genetics and biology are controlled by several parameters pertaining to a species‘ life history like: life span and age structure of plants, mobility and vitality of seeds and pollen, distribution of sexes, overlap in blooming of individuals and sexes, seed production and plant growth. To understand the linkages between these parameters, a computer simulation has been developed, which builds upon real situations taking into account all the important characteristics of populations and species. The simulation is meant to be used for the assessment of nature conservation strategies and to identify measures to preserve the genetic diversity of isolated populations in fragmented landscapes. The simulations of the different scenarios make it possible to detect the efficiency of the measurements.


Fig. | Schematic representation of a fragmented population. The dotted areas represent habitats which are populated by the species considered. The symbols are the individuals with the properties of size (proportional to symbol size) and genetic diversity (heterozygosity, classified according to the legend in the head of the graph). In the fictitious example, the blue and green population formed the starting point. The middle area populated for the first time with the tenth generation (individuals in red) was created experimentally. The experimental modification of the original situation provides an exemplary way how to influence the evolution of population genetics.


Dobe¨ Ch., Konrad H., Geburek T. 2017 Potential population genetic consequences of habitat fragmentation in Central European forest trees and associated understorey species — an introductory survey. Diversity 9: doi:10.3390/d9010009

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Autor: Dobes C., Schreck M.