Effects of small population size and reduced genetic variation on the viability of wild animal populations remain controversial. During a 35-year study of a remnant population of greater prairie chickens, population size decreased from 2000 individuals in 1962 to fewer than 50 by 1994. Concurrently, both fitness, as measured by fertility and hatching rates of eggs, and genetic diversity declined significantly. Conservation measures initiated in 1992 with translocations of birds from large, genetically diverse populations restored egg viability. Thus, sufficient genetic resources appear to be critical for maintaining populations of greater prairie chickens.
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