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Conservation Genetics.

Although genetics has played a large role in conservation biology during the development of the field through the 1980s and to the present, there continues to be debate about whether genetics has any relevance to the current extinction Crisis and to strategies for stemming losses of biodiversity. This book clearly demonstrates that genetics does matter, but that the role of genetics is intertwined with ecology, behavior, and other disciplines.

The book has seven parts, but the divisions are rather arbitrary as most of the papers touch on several of the topics. The book provides a good mixture of theoretical population genetics, molecular genetics, quantitative genetics, computer modeling, experimental laboratory studies, field studies, and conservation techniques - at times all within single chapters - and the balance reflects the activity in the field of conservation genetics at present. All of the papers address implications of their work for conservation. Sometimes the "applied" discussions reflect the world of theoreticians more than the urgent needs of conservation (such as when processes being described take 100s to 1000s of generations to become consequential), but time scales and other limitations are discussed.

The book is written for those interested in the role of genetics in conservation, but it does not assume that the reader is a geneticist. Contributors define terms that constitute the jargon of geneticists, and population genetic concepts are explained. The book aims to help bridge the gap between conservation genetics and ecology, and it succeeds. The tone of the contributions is that of short personal perspectives, often about ideas, models, and data that are still being developed by the authors. For example, some authors overly advocate their particular system or approach, even to the point of being defensive; details of models are often omitted; some generalizations are made with no supporting data or citations; and conclusions are drawn from analyses with little reference to sometimes contradictory studies published elsewhere. As a result, the book defines promising avenues for exploration and identifies genetic processes that might be important in conservation, but its prescriptions should not be taken as definitive.

The contributed chapters are uniformly good, with most integrating the genetics and ecology of conservation. I can highlight only a few here. Vrijenhoek gives an overview of one of the best and most comprehensive research programs on the interrelationships between genetic variation and population stability. His 25 years of work on topminnows demonstrates powerfully the effects of population bottlenecks and losses of genetic variation on reproduction, growth, survival, competitive ability, developmental stability, resistance to parasites and stress, and population survival. de Jong et al. productively combine genetics, ecology, and behavior to examine the effects of social structure on patterns of genetic variation of long-tailed macaques. Field data on the social system were used to create computer models which allowed exploration of the kinds of population structure that could !end to the patterns of genetic variation observed in allozymes. A case study of Scabiosa columbaria and Salvia pratensis by Bijlsma et al. is a nice demonstration not only that molecular and quantitative genetic variation is depleted in small populations, but also that loss of variation causes depression in fitness, which can be reversed by outcrossing between populations. Modeling of population dynamics suggested that the level of environmental stochasticity was the primary determinant of probability of population extirpation, but that genetic erosion increased the risk. Jain provides a wide-ranging but compact review of the relationships and interactions among genetics, demography, life history variation, environmental changes, and taxonomy that are important to the conservation of rare plants.

I did not find the brief introductory comments for each section to be particularly useful: even without these interludes, the other contributions form an integrated work, with frequent cross-referencing. The "Scenarios" appended by the editors are unnecessarily apologetic that the volume did not deal with all aspects of conservation genetics and that genetics is not always of particular relevance to conservation problems.

A comparison of this volume to earlier books on conservation genetics (e.g., Frankel, O. H., and M. E. Soule. 1981. Conservation and evolution. Cambridge University Press, New York; Schonewald-Cox, C. M., S. M. Chambers, B. MacBryde, and W. L. Thomas (eds.). 1983. Genetics and conservation: a reference for managing wild animal and plant populations. Benjamin/Cummings, Menlo Park, California) makes clear that the field has matured. Until a few years ago, conservation genetics was primarily the post hoc application of knowledge gained in animal breeding and theoretical population genetics to the problems of conservation. Now the questions, hypotheses, models, data collection, and analyses are driven from the start by the need for conservation of biodiversity. Hence, this volume is evidence that, contrary to the grumblings of some skeptics, conservation biology is a coherent and thriving discipline.

ROBERT C. LACY CHICAGO ZOOLOGICAL SOCIETY Department of Conservation Biology Brookfield, Illinois 60513
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Author:Lacy, Robert C.
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1995
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