Population Genetic Consequences of the Allee Effect and the Role of Offspring-Number Variation
Meike J. Wittmann, Wilfried Gabriel, Dirk Metzler


A strong demographic Allee effect in which the expected population growth rate is negative below a certain critical population size can cause high extinction probabilities in small introduced populations. But many species are repeatedly introduced to the same location and eventually one population may overcome the Allee effect by chance. With the help of stochastic models, we investigate how much genetic diversity such successful populations harbor on average and how this depends on offspring-number variation, an important source of stochastic variability in population size. We find that with increasing variability, the Allee effect increasingly promotes genetic diversity in successful populations. Successful Allee-effect populations with highly variable population dynamics escape rapidly from the region of small population sizes and do not linger around the critical population size. Therefore, they are exposed to relatively little genetic drift. It is also conceivable, however, that an Allee effect itself leads to an increase in offspring-number variation. In this case, successful populations with an Allee effect can exhibit less genetic diversity despite growing faster at small population sizes. Unlike in many classical population genetics models, the role of offspring-number variation for the population genetic consequences of the Allee effect cannot be accounted for by an effective-population-size correction. Thus, our results highlight the importance of detailed biological knowledge, in this case on the probability distribution of family sizes, when predicting the evolutionary potential of newly founded populations or when using genetic data to reconstruct their demographic history.

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