Evolutionarily significant unit
An evolutionarily significant unit (ESU) is a population of
Criterion 2 considers the gene flow between populations, measured by
Criterion 3 does not consider neutral genetic markers, instead looking at locally adapted traits of the population. Local adaptations may be present even with some gene flow from other populations, and even when there is little differentiation at neutral markers among ESUs. Reciprocal transplantation experiments are necessary to test for genetic differentiation for phenotypic traits, and differences in selection gradients across habitats. Such experiments are generally more difficult than the fixation index tests of criterion 2, and may be impossible for very rare or
Both criteria 2 and 3 have the problem that there is no clear dichotomy between ESU and not-ESU, as genetic differentiation between populations forms a continuum, prompting a contention for consideration of both genetic and ecological processes in identifying ESUs. Because the different approaches to designating ESUs each have their benefits, and the need and form of management prescriptions may vary across contexts, some support an "adaptive" approach to identification of ESUs, for instance suggesting consideration of facets from numerous designation methods.