Vaquitas not doomed to extinction by inbreeding depression

Mother and calf vaquita surface near San Felipe, Mexico. Credit: Paula Olson


New research shows that the endangered vaquita in the Gulf of California in Mexico remains genetically healthy enough for the species to recover if illegal gillnetting stops killing them. The paper, “The critically endangered vaquita is not doomed to extinction by inbreeding depression” is based on full genome sequencing of 20 individuals collected by Mexican researchers since the 1980s and was published today in Science. The scientists ran computer simulations based on the genetics of archived vaquita samples to project how the population would fare under different scenarios for their protection. They found that immediate and complete elimination of mortality from gillnets led to a high probability that the species will recover. Even low levels of continuing gillnet mortality rapidly reduced the species’ chances of survival, however.