Estimating the prevalence of inbreeding from incomplete pedigrees

T C Marshall, D W Coltman, J M Pemberton, J Slate, J A Spalton, F E Guinness, J A Smith, J G Pilkington, T H Clutton-Brock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A previous review of inbreeding in natural populations suggested that close inbreeding (inbreeding coefficient f = 0.25) is generally rare in wild birds and mammals. However, the review did not assess rates of moderate inbreeding (f = 0.125), which may make a rather larger contribution to overall inbreeding in a population. Furthermore, previous studies may have underestimated the prevalence of inbreeding in wild populations with incomplete pedigrees. By categorizing inbreeding events by the relationship of the parental pair, we suggest a simple method for estimating rates of close and moderate inbreeding from incomplete pedigree data. We applied this method to three wild populations of ruminants: red deer on Rum, Scotland, Soay sheep on Hirta, Scotland and reintroduced Arabian oryx on the Jiddat-al-Harasis, Oman. Although paternal half-sib pairs were the most common category of inbreeding in all three populations, there was considerable variation among populations in the frequencies of the various categories of inbreeding. This variation may be largely explained by differences in population size and dynamics, in maternal and paternal sibship size and in the overlap of reproductive lifespan of consecutive generations. Close and moderate inbreeding appear to be a routine part of breeding behaviour in these ruminant populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1533-1539
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences
Issue number1500
Publication statusPublished - 7 Aug 2002


  • inbreeding depression
  • conservation
  • heterozygosity
  • paternity
  • Cervus

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