MadSci Network: Evolution

Re: Are animals in captivity evolving differently from wild counterparts?

Date: Tue Oct 19 12:43:45 1999
Posted By: Kurt Wollenberg, Post Doc Genetics, North Carolina State University
Area of science: Evolution
ID: 936424562.Ev

Mutation is a continuous process in all living organisms. As long as 
mutations are not inviable they result in variability (both latent and 
expressed) in populations of organisms. Evolution occurrs when the existing 
variability in a population allows that population to take advantage of 
changes in existing conditions. 

The effect of management practices on managed animal populations has been a 
great concern among zookeepers recently, especially as more reintroduction 
programs have been attempted. This has lead to efforts to recreate the 
mechanics of the animals true environmental interactions in the zoo. Two 
examples of this are the "teaching" of foraging behavior to golden lion 
tamarins prior to their release in Brazil and attempts to train 
black-footed ferrets to avoid badgers through the use of a radio-controlled 
badger mock up (Robo-badger, made famous my Dave Barry). These attempts to 
emphasize the coping skills learned in the wild are one facet of how 
zookeepers maintain healthy populations of wild animals. 

Another major effort is in the maintenance of genetic variability in 
captive populations through the management of breeding programs/studbooks. 
Though there has been some controversy on the true effect of inbreeding in 
captive populations it is generally believed that it adversely effects the 
long-term viability of the captive population. Good references to follow up 
on this include recent texts on conservation biology (Primack's Primer or 
Essentials and Meffe and Carroll's Principles of Conservation Biology) or 
for a more concise treatment see the chapter on conservation genetics in 
Avise's Molecular Markers, Natural History, and Evolution. As long as 
wild-type levels of genetic variability are maintained in captive or 
managed populations (though population bottlenecks and the concomitant 
reduction in genetic variability have been known to occur in nature and are 
believed to have been instrumental in hominid evolution) and biologically 
well-informed management practices are followed there is no reason to 
believe that the "evolution" of managed populations will be adversely 

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