Inbreeding depression across the lifespan in a wild mammal population

Jisca Huisman, Loeske Kruuk, Philip A Ellis, Tim H. Clutton-Brock, Josephine Pemberton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Inbreeding depression is of major concern for the conservation of threatened species, and inbreeding avoidance is thought to be a key driver in the evolution of mating systems. However, the estimation of individual inbreeding coefficients in natural populations has been challenging, and, consequently, the full effect of inbreeding on fitness remains unclear. Genomic inbreeding coefficients may resolve the long-standing paucity of data on inbreeding depression in adult traits and total fitness. Here we investigate inbreeding depression in a range of life history traits and fitness in a wild population of red deer (Cervus elaphus) in Scotland using individual inbreeding coefficients derived from dense Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) data (Fgrm). We find associations between F grm and annual breeding success in both sexes, and between maternal inbreeding coefficient and offspring survival. We also confirm previous findings of inbreeding depression in birth weight and juvenile survival. In contrast, inbreeding coefficients calculated from a deep and compar- atively complete pedigree detected inbreeding depression in juvenile survival, but not in any adult fitness component. The total effect of inbreeding on lifetime breeding success (LBS) was substantial in both sexes: for F grm = 0 . 125 , a value resulting from a half-sib mat- ing, LBS declined by 72% for females and 95% for males. Our results demonstrate that SNP-based estimates of inbreeding provide a powerful new tool for evaluating inbreeding depression in natural populations, and suggest that to date, inbreeding depression in adult traits may have been underestimated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3585–3590
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number13
Early online date15 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - 29 Mar 2016


  • fitness
  • lifetime breeding success
  • adult traits
  • parental inbreeding
  • red deer
  • pedigree
  • single nucleotide polymorphism

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