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Keywords:

  • fitness;
  • inbreeding;
  • mean d2;
  • multilocus heterozygosity;
  • multivariate meta-analysis;
  • population demography

Abstract

The ease of obtaining genotypic data from wild populations has renewed interest in the relationship between individual genetic diversity and fitness-related traits (heterozygosity–fitness correlations, or HFC). Here we present a comprehensive meta-analysis of HFC studies using powerful multivariate techniques which account for nonindependence of data. We compare these findings with those from univariate techniques, and test the influence of a range of factors hypothesized to influence the strength of HFCs. We found small but significantly positive effect sizes for life-history, morphological, and physiological traits; while theory predicts higher mean effect sizes for life-history traits, effect size did not differ consistently with trait type. Newly proposed measures of variation were no more powerful at detecting relationships than multilocus heterozygosity, and populations predicted to have elevated inbreeding variance did not exhibit higher mean effect sizes. Finally, we found evidence for publication bias, with studies reporting weak, nonsignificant effects being under-represented in the literature. In general, our review shows that HFC studies do not generally reveal patterns predicted by population genetic theory, and are of small effect (less than 1% of the variance in phenotypic characters explained). Future studies should use more genetic marker data and utilize sampling designs that shed more light on the biological mechanisms that may modulate the strength of association, for example by contrasting the strength of HFCs in mainland and island populations of the same species, investigating the role of environmental stress, or by considering how selection has shaped the traits under investigation.