Integrating evolution in the management of captive zoo populations

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Both natural animal populations and those in captivity are subject to evolutionary forces. Evolutionary changes to captive populations may be an important, but poorly understood, factor that can affect the sustainability of these populations. The importance of maintaining the evolutionary integrity of zoo populations, especially those that are used for conservation efforts including reintroductions, is critical for the conservation of biodiversity. Here, we propose that a greater appreciation for an evolutionary perspective may offer important insights that can enhance the reproductive success and health for the sustainability of captive populations. We provide four examples and associated strategies that highlight this approach, including minimizing domestication (i.e., genetic adaptation to captivity), integrating natural mating systems into captive breeding protocols, minimizing the effects of translocation on variation in photoperiodism, and understanding the interplay of parasites/pathogens and inflammation. There are a myriad of other issues that may be important for captive populations, and we conclude that these may often be species specific. Nonetheless, an evolutionary perspective may mitigate some of the challenges currently facing captive populations that are important from a conservation perspective, including their sustainability.

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