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Keywords:

  • clutch size;
  • egg production;
  • egg size;
  • Falco naumanni;
  • genetic variability maintenance;
  • heterozygosity

Abstract

Fecundity is an important component of individual fitness and has major consequences on population dynamics. Despite this, the influence of individual genetic variability on egg production traits is poorly known. Here, we use two microsatellite-based measures, homozygosity by loci and internal relatedness, to analyse the influence of female genotypic variation at 11 highly variable microsatellite loci on both clutch size and egg volume in a wild population of lesser kestrels (Falco naumanni). Genetic diversity was associated with clutch size, with more heterozygous females laying larger clutches, and this effect was statistically independent of other nongenetic variables such as female age and laying date, which were also associated with fecundity in this species. However, egg volume was not affected by female heterozygosity, confirming previous studies from pedigree-based breeding experiments which suggest that this trait is scarcely subjected to inbreeding depression. Finally, we explored whether the association between heterozygosity and clutch size was due to a genome-wide effect (general effect) or to single locus heterozygosity (local effect). Two loci showed a stronger influence but the correlation was not fully explained by these two loci alone, suggesting that a main general effect underlies the association observed. Overall, our results underscore the importance of individual genetic variation for egg production in wild bird populations, a fact that could have important implications for conservation research and provides insights into the study of clutch size evolution and genetic variability maintenance in natural populations.