Heritable variation in resistance to gastro-intestinal nematodes in an unmanaged mammal population

J A Smith, K Wilson, J G Pilkington, J M Pemberton

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The impact of parasites on natural populations has received considerable attention from evolutionary biologists in recent years. Central to a number of theoretical developments during this period is the assumption of additive genetic variation in resistance to parasites. However, very few studies have estimated the heritability of parasite resistance under field conditions, and those that have are mainly restricted to birds and their ectoparasites. In this paper, to our knowledge, we show for the first time in a free-ranging mammal population, Soay sheep (Ovis aries) living on the islands of St Kilda, that there is significant heritable variation in resistance to gastrointestinal nematodes. This result is consistent with earlier studies on this population which have indicated locus-specific associations with parasite resistance. We discuss our results in the context of current studies examining heritable resistance to parasites in domestic sheep and the possible mechanisms of selective maintenance of genetic variation for resistance to gastrointestinal nematodes in the St Kilda Soay sheep population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1283-1290
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences
Issue number1425
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 1999


  • Teladorsagia circumcincta
  • heritability
  • generalized linear models
  • parasites
  • ungulate


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