Limits to Genetic Bottlenecks and Founder Events Imposed by the Allee Effect

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The Allee effect can result in a negative population growth rate at low population density. Consequently, populations below a minimum (critical) density are unlikely to persist. A lower limit on population size should constrain the loss of genetic variability due to genetic drift during population bottlenecks or founder events. We explored this phenomenon by modeling changes in genetic variability and differentiation during simulated bottlenecks of the alpine copepod, Hesperodiaptomus shoshone. Lake surveys, whole-lake re-introduction experiments and model calculations all indicate that H. shoshone should be unlikely to establish or persist at densities less than 0.5–5 individuals m−3. We estimated the corresponding range in minimum effective population size using the distribution of habitat (lake) sizes in nature and used these values to model the expected heterozygosity, allelic richness and genetic differentiation resulting from population bottlenecks. We found that during realistic bottlenecks or founder events, >90% of H. shoshone populations in the Sierra Nevada may be resistant to significant changes in heterozygosity or genetic distance, and 70–75% of populations may lose <10% of allelic richness. We suggest that ecological constraints on minimum population size be considered when using genetic markers to estimate historical population dynamics.

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Oecologia, v. 157, p. 561-569