Effects of chemical contaminants on genetic diversity in natural populations: Implications for biomonitoring and ecotoxicology

Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Texas A&M University, 77843, College Station, TX 77843, USA.
Mutation Research/Fundamental and Molecular Mechanisms of Mutagenesis (Impact Factor: 3.68). 08/2000; 463(1):33-51. DOI: 10.1016/S1383-5742(00)00004-1
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The conservation of genetic diversity has emerged as one of the central issues in conservation biology. Although researchers in the areas of evolutionary biology, population management, and conservation biology routinely investigate genetic variability in natural populations, only a handful of studies have addressed the effects of chemical contamination on population genetics. Chemical contamination can cause population reduction by the effects of somatic and heritable mutations, as well as non-genetic modes of toxicity. Stochastic processes in small populations, increased mutation load, and the phenomenon of mutational meltdown are compounding factors that cause reduced fitness and accelerate the process of population extirpation. Although the original damage caused by chemical contaminants is at the molecular level, there are emergent effects at the level of populations, such as the loss of genetic diversity, that are not predictable based solely on knowledge of the mechanism of toxicity of the chemical contaminants. Therefore, the study of evolutionary toxicology, which encompasses the population-genetic effects of environmental contaminants, should be an important focus of ecotoxicology. This paper reviews the issues surrounding the genetic effects of pollution, summarizes the technical approaches that can be used to address these issues, and provides examples of studies that have addressed some of them.

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