In a conservation context, genomic approaches are expected to bring a significant impact in at least two important respects: Firstly, genomic approaches should greatly enhance the power and resolution of the analysis of geographic patterns of variation, by providing thousands of genetic markers widely distributed over the genome, and with potentially known genomic locations and biological functions. A sufficient number of genetic markers would enable better relatedness estimates and the reconstructions of family and multigenerational pedigrees in wild populations.
Secondly, and most importantly, a genomic approach would broaden the analysis of genetic variation beyond the purely neutral to include the variation potentially subjected to natural selection, be it either deleterious or beneficial. Thereby, genomic information would allow a better assessment of genetic risks in endangered populations, including the identification of genes responsible for diseases or congenital disorders, and the design of more effective, science-based management strategies.
For example, genomic approaches are being undertaken to isolate the gene responsible for the observed high incidence of condrodistrophy in the captive California condor population.The development of genetic assays based on this information could then be used to manage reproduction with the objective to lower the frequency of the deleterious gene in the population while still maximizing overall genetic diversity.
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.