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Genetic aspects of ecosystem conservation.

abstract1 (full description below): Pp 34-45 in W.R. Siegfried and B.R. Davies (eds.) Conservation of Ecosystems: Theory and Practice, C.S.I.R. Cape Town.

Introduction. Diagrammatic representations of ecosystems commonly show the names of the species comprising the biotas. Enclosed in little boxes, the species are interconnected by arrows, representing interactions of various sorts that occur between them. While such a schema emphasizes the interdependence and interactions of the component species, it does not bring out the important fact that each box represents a heterogeneous array of individuals, no two of which are genetically alike. This genetic diversity, which is the basis of much of the morphological and behavioural variation in a local population, is sometimes referred to as the "gene pool." For several decades, conservationists have paid lip service to genetic conservation and to the idea that the health of the gene pool of the species is both a goal and a necessary condition of success in the management of ecosystems. Yet, it has been only in the last year or two that specific recommendations and guidelines have been suggested by conservation biologists to ensure the maintenance of "healthy" gene pools.