Susceptibility to a sexually transmitted disease in a wild koala population shows heritable genetic variance but no inbreeding depression

Romane H. Cristescu, Kasha Strickland, Anthony J. Schultz, Loeske E. B. Kruuk, Deidre De Villiers, Céline H. Frère

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The koala, one of the most iconic Australian wildlife species, is facing several concomitant threats that are driving population declines. Some threats are well known and have clear methods of prevention (e.g., habitat loss can be reduced with stronger land-clearing control), whereas others are less easily addressed. One of the major current threats to koalas is chlamydial disease, which can have major impacts on individual survival and reproduction rates and can translate into population declines. Effective management strategies for the disease in the wild are currently lacking, and, to date, we know little about the determinants of individual susceptibility to disease. Here, we investigated the genetic basis of variation in susceptibility to chlamydia using one of the most intensively studied wild koala populations. We combined data from veterinary examinations, chlamydia testing, genetic sampling and movement monitoring. Out of our sample of 342 wild koalas, 60 were found to have chlamydia. Using genotype information on 5007 SNPs to investigate the role of genetic variation in determining disease status, we found no evidence of inbreeding depression, but a heritability of 0.11 (95% CI: 0.06–0.23) for the probability that koalas had chlamydia. Heritability of susceptibility to chlamydia could be relevant for future disease management, as it suggests adaptive potential for the population.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5455-5467
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number21
Early online date30 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2022


  • additive genetic effect
  • Chlamydia pecorum
  • inbreeding
  • Phascolarctos cinereus
  • quantitative genetics


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