Genetic Diversity in Introduced Populations with an Allee Effect
Meike J. Wittmann, Wilfried Gabriel, Dirk Metzler

Abstract

A phenomenon that strongly influences the demography of small introduced populations and thereby potentially their genetic diversity is the demographic Allee effect, a reduction in population growth rates at small population sizes. We take a stochastic modeling approach to investigate levels of genetic diversity in populations that successfully overcame either a strong Allee effect, in which populations smaller than a certain critical size are expected to decline, or a weak Allee effect, in which the population growth rate is reduced at small sizes but not negative. Our results indicate that compared to successful populations without an Allee effect, successful populations with a strong Allee effect tend to 1) derive from larger founder population sizes and thus have a higher initial amount of genetic variation, 2) spend fewer generations at small population sizes where genetic drift is particularly strong, and 3) spend more time around the critical population size and thus experience more genetic drift there. In the case of multiple introduction events, there is an additional increase in diversity because Allee-effect populations tend to derive from a larger number of introduction events than other populations. Altogether, a strong Allee effect can either increase or decrease genetic diversity, depending on the average founder population size. By contrast, a weak Allee effect tends to decrease genetic diversity across the entire range of founder population sizes. Finally, we show that it is possible in principle to infer critical population sizes from genetic data, although this would require information from many independently introduced populations.

  • Received January 27, 2014.
  • Accepted June 24, 2014.