Genetic rescue persists beyond first-generation outbreeding in small populations of a rare plant
van Kleunen, M.
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Habitat fragmentation commonly causes genetic problems and reduced fitness when populations become small. Stocking small populations with individuals from other populations may enrich genetic variation and alleviate inbreeding, but such artificial gene flow is not commonly used in conservation owing to potential outbreeding depression. We addressed the role of long-term population size, genetic distance between populations and test environment for the performance of two generations of offspring from between-population crosses of the locally rare plant Ranunculus reptans L. Interpopulation outbreeding positively affected an aggregate measure of fitness, and the fitness superiority of interpopulation hybrids was maintained in the second offspring (F2) generation. Small populations benefited more strongly from interpopulation outbreeding. Genetic distance between crossed populations in neutral markers or quantitative characters was not important. These results were consistent under near-natural competition-free and competitive conditions. We conclude that the benefits of interpopulation outbreeding are likely to outweigh potential drawbacks, especially for populations that suffer from inbreeding.