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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Find the weakest link. A comparison between demographic, genetic and demo-genetic metapopulation extinction times

Alexandre Robert

Author Affiliations

Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Dept. EGB, UMR 7204 CNRS-MNHN-UPMC Conservation des Espèces, Restauration et suivi des Populations, 55 rue Buffon, 75005 Paris, France

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:260  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-260

Published: 19 September 2011



While the ultimate causes of most species extinctions are environmental, environmental constraints have various secondary consequences on evolutionary and ecological processes. The roles of demographic, genetic mechanisms and their interactions in limiting the viabilities of species or populations have stirred much debate and remain difficult to evaluate in the absence of demography-genetics conceptual and technical framework. Here, I computed projected times to metapopulation extinction using (1) a model focusing on the effects of species properties, habitat quality, quantity and temporal variability on the time to demographic extinction; (2) a genetic model focusing on the dynamics of the drift and inbreeding loads under the same species and habitat constraints; (3) a demo-genetic model accounting for demographic-genetic processes and feedbacks.


Results indicate that a given population may have a high demographic, but low genetic viability or vice versa; and whether genetic or demographic aspects will be the most limiting to overall viability depends on the constraints faced by the species (e.g., reduction of habitat quantity or quality). As a consequence, depending on metapopulation or species characteristics, incorporating genetic considerations to demographically-based viability assessments may either moderately or severely reduce the persistence time. On the other hand, purely genetically-based estimates of species viability may either underestimate (by neglecting demo-genetic interactions) or overestimate (by neglecting the demographic resilience) true viability.


Unbiased assessments of the viabilities of species may only be obtained by identifying and considering the most limiting processes (i.e., demography or genetics), or, preferentially, by integrating them.