Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



Biological Conservation (2008) 141: 472-481. DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2007.10.018.


Copyright 2008, Elsevier. Used by permission.


Populations with small effective sizes are at risk for inbreeding depression and loss of adaptive potential. Variance in reproductive success is one of several factors reducing effective population size (Ne) below the actual population size (N). Here, we investigate the effects of polygynous (skewed) mating and variation in female breeding success on the effective size of a small population of the Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus), a ground nesting bird with a lek mating system. During a two-year field study, we recorded attendance of marked birds at leks, male mating success, the reproductive success of radio-tagged females, and annual survival. We developed simulations to estimate the distribution of male reproductive success. Using these data, we estimated population size (N^) and effective population size Ne for the study population. We also simulated the effects of population size, skewed vs. random mating, and female breeding failure on Ne. In our study population, the standardized variance in seasonal reproductive success was almost as high in females as in males, primarily due to a high rate of nest failure (73%). Estimated Ne (42) was 19% of N^ in our population, below the level at which inbreeding depression is observed in captive breeding studies. A high hatching failure rate (28%) was also consistent with ongoing inbreeding depression. In the simulations, Ne was reduced by skewed male mating success, especially at larger population sizes, and by female breeding failure. Extrapolation of our results suggests that six of the seven extant populations of this species may have effective sizes low enough to induce inbreeding depression and hence that translocations may be needed to supplement genetic diversity.

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