Our ability to assess the threat posed by the genetic load to small and declining populations has been greatly improved by advances in genome sequencing and computational approaches. Yet, considerable confusion remains around the definitions of the genetic load and its dynamics, and how they impact individual fitness and population viability. We illustrate how both selective purging and drift affect the distribution of deleterious mutations during population size decline and recovery. We show how this impacts the composition of the genetic load, and how this affects the extinction risk and recovery potential of populations. We propose a framework to examine load dynamics and advocate for the introduction of load estimates in the management of endangered populations.
- genetic load
- genomic erosion