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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2014

Can sexual selection theory inform genetic management of captive populations? A review

Chargé, Rémi; Teplitsky, Celine; Sorci, Gabriele; Low, Matthew


Captive breeding for conservation purposes presents a serious practical challenge because several conflicting genetic processes (i.e., inbreeding depression, random genetic drift and genetic adaptation to captivity) need to be managed in concert to maximize captive population persistence and reintroduction success probability. Because current genetic management is often only partly successful in achieving these goals, it has been suggested that management insights may be found in sexual selection theory (in particular, female mate choice). We review the theoretical and empirical literature and consider how female mate choice might influence captive breeding in the context of current genetic guidelines for different sexual selection theories (i.e., direct benefits, good genes, compatible genes, sexy sons). We show that while mate choice shows promise as a tool in captive breeding under certain conditions, for most species, there is currently too little theoretical and empirical evidence to provide any clear guidelines that would guarantee positive fitness outcomes and avoid conflicts with other genetic goals. The application of female mate choice to captive breeding is in its infancy and requires a goal-oriented framework based on the needs of captive species management, so researchers can make honest assessments of the costs and benefits of such an approach, using simulations, model species and captive animal data.


conservation biology; evolutionary theory; sexual selection

Published in

Evolutionary applications
2014, volume: 7, number: 9, pages: 1120-1133

Authors' information

Chargé, Rémi
Teplitsky, Celine
Sorci, Gabriele
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Ecology

UKÄ Subject classification

Evolutionary Biology

Publication Identifiers


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