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The world would be a wonderful place if our natural resources (e.g., forests, fish, and wildlife) needed no management and conservation was not a concern. In a world with a global human population approaching 7 billion and where most developed nations overconsume these resources, however, conservation is a concern and management is necessary for sustainable use. Historically, natural resource management strategies were determined by the collection and interpretation of basic field data. Today, as challenges to the sustainability and conservation of our natural resources arise, managers often need data that cannot be acquired using conventional methods. For example, a natural resource manager might want to know the number of successful breeders in a population or if genetic variation was being depleted because of a management practice. Traditional field craft alone cannot directly address such questions, but the answers can be determined with some precision if the field work is coupled with modern molecular genetic techniques.
Molecules can enlighten us about biological attributes that are virtually impossible to observe in the field (Avise 2004). Parentage analysis is one such arena in which genetic data can inform management practices (DeWoody 2005), but there are a host of others. For example, molecular data have revealed deep evolutionary splits in stocks at one time thought to be homogeneous. This finding has concomitant management implications (Hoffman et al. 2006). Similarly, molecules can enlighten us about biologies that are virtually impossible to observe in the field, such as pollen flow (Hamrick, this volume) or the physiology of migration (Nichols et al. 2008).
Recent advances in molecular genetics and genomics have been embraced by many in natural resource conservation. Today, several major conservation and management journals are now using 'genetics' editors to deal solely with the influx of manuscripts that employ molecular data. The editors have attempted to synthesize some of the major uses of molecular markers in natural resource management in a book targeted not only at scientists but also at individuals actively making conservation and management decisions. To that end, the text features contributors who are major figures in molecular ecology and evolution - many having published books of their own. The aim is to direct and distil the thoughts of these outstanding scientists by compiling compelling case histories in molecular ecology as they apply to natural resource management.
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