Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Genetic Variation

Genetic Variation Is Important
Genetic variation is when the genes carried by the members of a population differ from one another (like hair or eye color). Genetic variation is important. If there are sudden changes in environment, the individuals of the population will vary enough that some will be able to adapt and survive.

Genetic diversity is rapidly lost in small populations because not all genes are passed from one generation to the next. This is called genetic drift. The loss of genetic diversity results in inbred populations which have poor health and are less able to evolve and adapt to new environments.

The potential for loss of genetic diversity in captive populations of endangered species is high because these captive populations are small by nature. Captive breeding programs based on scientific management principles attempt to maximize the retention of genetic diversity. In these populations, we use pedigree analysis to decide which animals should breed, with whom, and how often.

Which of the GLTs below is the most genetically valuable?