Evidence Resources

CEE Evidence Syntheses

The fitness consequences of inbreeding in natural populations and their implications for species conservation (systematic map)



Threatened species often have small and isolated populations where mating among relatives can result in inbreeding depression increasing extinction risk. Effective management is hampered by a lack of syntheses summarising the magnitude of, and variation in inbreeding depression. Here we describe the nature and scope of the literature examining phenotypic/fitness consequences of inbreeding, to provide a foundation for future syntheses and management.


We searched the literature for articles documenting the impact of inbreeding in natural populations. Article titles, abstracts and full-texts were assessed against a priori defined criteria, and information relating to study design, quality and other factors that may influence inbreeding responses (e.g. population size) was extracted from relevant articles.


The searches identified 11457 articles, of which 614 were assessed as relevant and included in the systematic map (corresponding to 703 distinct studies). Most studies (663) assessed within-population inbreeding resulting from self-fertilisation or consanguineous pairings, while 118 studies assessed among-population inbreeding due to drift load. Plants were the most studied taxon (469 studies) followed by insects (52 studies) and birds (43 studies). Most studies investigated the effects of inbreeding on components of fitness (e.g. survival or fecundity; 648 studies) but measurements were typically under laboratory/greenhouse conditions (486 studies). Observations were also often restricted to the first inbred generation (607 studies) and studies frequently lacked contextual information (e.g. population size).


Our systematic map describes the scope and quality of the evidence describing the phenotypic consequences of inbreeding. The map reveals substantial evidence relating to inbreeding responses exists, but highlights information is still limited for some aspects, including the effects of multiple generations of inbreeding. The systematic map allowed us to define several conservation-relevant questions, where sufficient data exists to support systematic reviews, e.g. How do inbreeding responses vary with population size? However, we found that such syntheses are likely to be constrained by incomplete reporting of critical contextual information. Our systematic map employed the same rigorous literature assessment methods as systematic review, including a novel survey of study quality and thus provides a robust foundation to guide future research and syntheses seeking to inform conservation decision-making.


Genetic variation; Conservation genetics; Systematic review; Inbreeding depression; Outbreeding; Heterosis; Genetic load; Isolated populations; Small populations

Who's in the review team?

Linda E Neaves
Jacqualyn Eales
Raj Whitlock
Peter M Hollingsworth
Terry Burke
Andrew S Pullin

At what stage is the review?

Completed Systematic Map

Back To Completed Reviews
Follow Us On Twitter Connect On Linkedin Make A Donation