The decline in Iberian lynx numbers has had a dramatic effect on the genetic variation of the species. The analysis of contemporary nuclear microsatellite marker variation revealed levels of diversity that are extremely low compared to other species of cats, especially in the Doñana population, whose diversity is 33% lower than Andújar's, a strong genetic differentiation between the two populations, and bottleneck signals.
Analysis of museum specimens covering the historic range shows significantly higher overall diversity and progressive loss of diversity in remnant populations, and lower levels of genetic structure in the past.
The patterns observed for microsatellite markers indicate major effects of genetic drift, in line with population sizes and times of isolation of each population, and warn of risks arising from the likely loss of adaptive diversity and the negative effects of the accumulation of deleterious alleles and homozygosity over time.
Neither of these aspects (adaptive diversity, deleterious alleles and inbreeding depression) has been directly assessed to date, mainly due to the lack of genomic information and resources, a deficiency that this project aims to repair.
The genetic changes occurring in endangered species might increase their extinction probabilities. Low population sizes leads to reduced genetic diversity and increased inbreeding. A low of genetic diversity means a reduced ability to adapt to environmental changes. Inbreeding is often associated to reduced reproduction and survival. Genetic factors might thus play an important role in species extinction -and therefore in their conservation.
Molecular genetic markers are often used to assess the genetic status of endangered species and populations. This information is then used to elaborate conservation plans designed to maximize genetic diversity and minimize inbreeding.