Empirical tests for ecological exchangeability


ecological exchangeability, genetic exchangeability, captive-breeding, native species


The concept of ecological exchangeability, together with genetic exchangeability, is central to both the Cohesion Species Concept as well as to some definitions of Evolutionarily Significant Units. While there are well-established criteria for measuring genetic exchangeability, the concept of ecological exchangeability has generated considerable confusion. We describe a procedure that uses the complementary strengths, while recognising the limitations, of both molecular genetic data and ecological experiments to determine the ecological exchangeability of local populations within a species. This is the first synthesis of a combined approach (experiments and genetics) and the first explicit discussion of testing ecological exchangeability. Although it would be ideal to find functional genes that interact to influence quantitative traits resulting in ecological differences (e.g. growth, size, fecundity), we suggest that our current knowledge of functional markers is too limited for most species to use them to differentiate adaptively different local populations. Thus, we argue that ecological experiments using whole organisms combined with neutral markers that indicate evolutionary divergence, provide the strongest case for detecting adaptive differences among local populations. Both genetic divergence and ecological experiments provide the best information for infering ecological exchangeability. This procedure can be used to decide which local populations should be preserved to maintain intraspecific variation and to determine which populations would enhance captive-breeding programs, augment endangered local populations and could best be used to re-introduce native species into historically occupied areas.

Original Publication Citation

Rader, R.B., M.C. Belk, D.K. Shiozawa, and K.A. Crandall. 2005. Empirical tests for ecological exchangeability. Animal Conservation 8: 239-247.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL



Animal Conservation




Life Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor