Heterozygosity, inbreeding and neonatal traits in Soay sheep on St Kilda


A. D. J. Overall, School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, University of Brighton, Brighton BN2 4GJ, UK. E-mail: a.d.j.overall@brighton.ac.uk


We investigated whether birth weight and neonatal survival, a period within which 24% of all mortalities occur, were correlated with levels of inbreeding in St Kilda Soay sheep, using pedigree inbreeding coefficients and four marker-based estimators of inbreeding. None of the inbreeding estimators, either of the offspring, or of their mothers, explained significant variation in a lamb's birth weight or probability of surviving the neonatal period, suggesting low inbreeding depression for these traits. We evaluated the correlation between the marker-based measures of inbreeding and inbreeding coefficients obtained from the Soay pedigree, where paternal links were inferred using the same panel of microsatellite markers. Even when using a relatively complete portion of the pedigree, in which all individuals had known maternal and paternal grandparents, the correlation was found to be weak (r = −0.207, where mean f = 0.0168). These results add support to the recent prediction that when the mean and variance in inbreeding are low in a population, heterozygosity–fitness correlations can be very weak or even undetectable. The pursuit of more detailed pedigrees offers the best prospect for identifying inbreeding depression within this study population.