On the correlation between heterozygosity and fitness in natural populations


Bengt Hansson. Fax: + 46 46 222 47 16; E-mail: bengt.hansson@zooekol.lu.se


Three primary hypotheses currently prevail for correlations between heterozygosity at a set of molecular markers and fitness in natural populations. First, multilocus heterozygosity–fitness correlations might result from selection acting directly on the scored loci, such as at particular allozyme loci. Second, significant levels of linkage disequilibrium, as in recently bottlenecked-and-expanded populations, might cause associations between the markers and fitness loci in the local chromosomal vicinity. Third, in partially inbred populations, heterozygosity at the markers might reflect variation in the inbreeding coefficient and might associate with fitness as a result of effects of homozygosity at genome-wide distributed loci. Despite years of research, the relative importance of these hypotheses remains unclear. The screening of heterozygosity at polymorphic DNA markers offers an opportunity to resolve this issue, and relevant empirical studies have now emerged. We provide an account of the recent progress on the subject, and give suggestions on how to distinguish between the three hypotheses in future studies.