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Genetic conservation literature review

Cite this dataset

Minter, Melissa et al. (2021). Genetic conservation literature review [Dataset]. Dryad.


  1. Genetic diversity is important for species persistence and Gene Conservation Units (GCUs) have been implemented for forest trees to protect genetic diversity and evolutionary processes in situ. The Convention on Biological Diversity stipulates the protection of genetic diversity as an Aichi target, and so we explore the potential for GCUs to be implemented more widely.
  2. Our global systematic review showed that GCUs are currently implemented primarily for plant species of economic importance (109/158 species studied), but a questionnaire sent to land managers and conservationists (60 UK participants) revealed strong support for fully integrating genetic information into conservation management (90% agree), and for creating GCUs for other plant and animal taxa. 
  3. Using four case studies of UK species of conservation importance which vary in genetic threat and population dynamics (two insect species, a fungus and a plant), we highlight that GCU implementation criteria need to be flexible to account for variation in effective breeding population size and geographic extent of target species. The wider uptake of GCUs would ensure that threatened genetic diversity is protected and support evolutionary processes that aid adaptation to changing environments.


We conducted a systematic literature review (published papers and ‘grey’ literature) to search for evidence of genetic conservation in the literature. Only studies where the main or one of the main purposes of the conservation was to protect or increase genetic diversity were included. Searches in the literature include ‘genetic rescue’, ‘gene reserves’, ‘genetic conservation unit’, ‘evolutionary significant unit’. Further literature was obtained through references within this literature. For each study, the name of the species along with the type of genetic conservation management was extracted. The species were then categorised into species group (trees, mammals, plants (not trees), birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish) and socio-economic value (conservation, timber, craft, medicinal, game, fisheries, agriculture and ornamental).


Natural Environment Research Council, Award: NE/P009417/1