2015 Volume 90 Issue 3 Pages 133-145
Genetic diversity is a key parameter in population genetics and is important for understanding the process of evolution and for the development of appropriate conservation strategies. Recent advances in sequencing technology have enabled the measurement of genetic diversity of various organisms at the nucleotide level and on a genome-wide scale, yielding more precise estimates than were previously achievable. In this review, I have compiled and summarized the estimates of genetic diversity in humans and non-human primates based on recent genome-wide studies. Although studies on population genetics demonstrated fluctuations in population sizes over time, general patterns have emerged. As shown previously, genetic diversity in humans is one of the lowest among primates; however, certain other primate species exhibit genetic diversity that is comparable to or even lower than that in humans. There exists greater than 10-fold variation in genetic diversity among primate species, and I found weak correlation with species fecundity but not with body or propagule size. I further discuss the potential evolutionary consequences of population size decline on the evolution of primate species. The level of genetic diversity negatively correlates with the ratio of non-synonymous to synonymous polymorphisms in a population, suggesting that proportionally greater numbers of slightly deleterious mutations segregate in small rather than large populations. Although population size decline is likely to promote the fixation of slightly deleterious mutations, there are molecular mechanisms, such as compensatory mutations at various molecular levels, which may prevent fitness decline at the population level. The effects of slightly deleterious mutations from theoretical and empirical studies and their relevance to conservation biology are also discussed in this review.