Jared A Grummer, Tom R Booker, Remi Matthey-Doret, Pirmin Nietlisbach, Andrea T. Thomaz, Michael Whitlock. 2022. The immediate costs and long-term benefits of assisted gene flow in large populations. Conservation Biology
With the genetic health of many plant and animal populations deteriorating due to climate change outpacing adaptation, interventions, such as assisted gene flow (AGF), may provide genetic variation necessary for populations to adapt to climate change. We ran genetic simulations to mimic different AGF scenarios in large populations and measured their outcomes on population-level fitness to determine circumstances in which it is worthwhile to perform AGF. In the absence of inbreeding depression, AGF was beneficial within a few generations only when introduced genotypes had much higher fitness than local individuals and traits affecting fitness were controlled by a few genes of large effect. AGF was harmful over short periods (e.g., first ∼10-20 generations) if there was strong outbreeding depression or introduced deleterious genetic variation. When the adaptive trait was controlled by many loci of small effect, the benefits of AGF took over 10 generations to realize-potentially too long for most climate-related management scenarios. The genomic integrity of the recipient population typically remained intact following AGF; the amount of genetic material from the donor population usually constituted no more of the recipient population's genome than the fraction of the population introduced. Significant genomic turnover (e.g., >50% replacement) only occurred when the selective advantage of the adaptive trait and translocation fraction were extremely high. Our results will be useful when adaptive management is used to maintain the genetic health and productivity of large populations under climate change.