Genetic Diversity Among California Condors

Posted at 3:22 pm April 22, 2008 by admin

The California Condor Recovery Program’s breeding efforts began with approximately 20 birds. Genetic diversity was immediately a concern. A reader recently asked:

Since the current population of 300 birds has, over a period of about twenty years, grown from a collection of approximately twenty individuals, how is the resultant lack of genetic diversity going to affect this new population? And, are the birds that have been introduced to the wild reproducing at a population-sustainable rate.

The Zoological Society of San Diego’s head of the genetics division, Oliver Ryder, Ph.D., has been heavily involved in the California Condor Recovery Program for this very reason and has this answer:

The California condor has gone through a population bottleneck, as its population size was reduced. Captive breeding saved the California condor from extinction and has allowed the greatest extent possible of its remaining gene pool to be saved.

Nonetheless, genetic diversity has been lost over time as the population living in the wild decreased. However, by rapid growth of the current population, as has taken place during the last 15 years, the risk of genetic diminishment resulting in the inability of the species to survive, has been reduced. Efforts are now focused to ensure that the condor population can continue to grow to meet the goals for species recovery.

The age structure of the reintroduced condor populations is still heavily weighted toward younger individuals. Thus, the full reproductive potential of the wild population has not yet been reached and, additional releases will soon help bolster the population of free-flying birds. Even so, successful reproduction in the effort to reform a wild condor population has not, as yet, reached a level that would result in self-sustaining populations.

The goal of the California Condor Recovery Program is to create a self-sustaining population and so the dedicated members of the recovery efforts will continue to strive to reach this objective. Please continue to send in questions and we will get answers from the experts.

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