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Yale J Biol Med. 2010 September; 83(3): 166–167.
Published online 2010 September.
PMCID: PMC2946135

An Introduction to Conservation Genetics

Reviewed by Anit Raja Banerjee

R Frankham, JD Ballou, DA Briscoe 
An Introduction to Conservation Genetics.
2nd edition. 2009. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK. ISBN: (Paperback) 978-0521702713. US $75 618 p

The conservation of biological diversity is a non-trivial ecological concern that has grown as human populations have expanded. In Introduction to Conservation Genetics, Frankham, Ballou, and Briscoe have endeavored to provide a textbook to introduce students to genetic analysis in conservation biology. The resulting text maintains an impressive fluidity and is both thorough and instructive, but it has a few weaknesses worth mentioning.

From start to finish, Conservation Genetics maintains a coherent flow of information. Each chapter builds upon, and frequently incorporates, lessons from previous chapters while reinforcing critical concepts. These lessons are based on real data from a variety of previous studies, giving students a window into real problems that conservation biologists face. Moreover, many of these examples are accompanied by precise illustrations of the relevant organisms. They are grayscale illustrations, which limit their impact, but still enhance the reading and learning experience. The book also includes impressively instructive illustrations to diagram gene-flow schemes, pedigrees, and other complex examples.

While the first few chapters focus largely on broad concepts, the authors dive into mathematical concepts such as Chi-squared analysis beginning in the fourth chapter. As the book progresses, more complex formulae are introduced, as are formulae that can be derived from previously presented equations. This progressive introduction of derived formulae helps reinforce what each variable represents, contributes to the flow of the text, and presents a sense of coherence in the mathematical tools used in the field. Examples typically include step-by-step walkthroughs of how to use the equations presented ― quite a boon for less mathematically apt students. Altogether, the vast majority of equations are utilized in such examples. While some could stand to have their derivations presented, the overall text provides excellent instruction on the use and utility of the included equations.

While hardly abject disappointments, the end-of-chapter sections may be the weak point of the text. Each chapter concludes with a summary and references for further reading, both of which are perfectly useful. They also have problems that revisit key concepts and equations presented in the chapter. However, very few of the exercises engage the reader in critical thinking. Many chapters also list software tools available to researchers, but they are rarely utilized in the problems. Since computations tools can be very daunting to use, an instructor may find it beneficial to develop exercises utilizing these programs.

A few omissions, such as an equations appendix, somewhat weaken the value of Conservation Genetics as a reference. With neither end-of-chapter nor end-of-book equations appendices, one must hunt through chapters to find an equation. A more minor omission is a Chi-square table. Since Chi-square analyses are a handy population genetics tool and the authors include Chi-square analyses in their text and problems, a table of Chi-square values would prove helpful.

As a textbook, Introduction to Conservation Genetics is quite well written. The flow of the text keeps a reader’s attention, the material is thoroughly covered and illustrated, and the mathematical tools are particularly well explained. While there are noted weaknesses, they are not egregious, and can be easily overcome by an interested student or a creative instructor. Indeed, both should find this text a useful foundation for the learning and teaching of conservation genetics.

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