Avoiding Conservation by Numbers and How Genetics Can Help

February 21, 2017

Did you know the little spotted Kiwi was nearly lost when just 5 individuals remained? A conservation program saw its numbers grow. But a bigger population is not enough. Dr Helen Taylor, research fellow in conservation genetics at the University of Otago, is tackling what happens when a population crashes and inbreeding – a threat to even thriving populations – affects the survival and reproduction of subsequent generations.

Dr Taylor discussed how conservation is often considered to be a numbers game – if we increase the size of a threatened species’ population, we think this a conservation success. Unfortunately, population growth is not always the full story; factors such as genetics have a big part to play in whether or not a species will survive.

She described happens to the genetics of populations when they get very small, why this is a problem, and what we can do about it. Using examples from her own research, she took us on a journey that encompassed inbred kiwi in Marlborough Sounds, collecting bird sperm on remote islands, and gene editing technologies that could revolutionise conservation in New Zealand and globally.

For a concise summary of her research and findings, watch this 3 minute video.