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Keywords:

  • blue tits;
  • heterozygosity–fitness correlations;
  • inbreeding;
  • microsatellites;
  • outbreeding depression

Genome-wide heterozygosity inferred from neutral markers such as microsatellites is often expected to (i) reflect individual inbreeding and (ii) covary positively with fitness, generating positive heterozygosity–fitness correlations (HFCs). The often forgotten other end of the inbreeding–outbreeding continuum is outbreeding depression: past a certain degree of heterozygosity, heterozygotes tend to have lower fitness than homozygotes. Outbreeding depression arises from the breakup of co-adapted gene complexes and/or the introgression of nonlocally adapted genes. Provided that a correlation in heterozygosity exists across loci, outbreeding depression will be reflected in negative HFCs. In this issue, Olano-Marin et al. (2011a) describe negative heterozygosity–fitness correlations (HFCs) in blue tits Cyanistes caeruleus (Fig. 1), whereby heterozygosity has a significant, negative effect on female hatching success and recruitment. This study, together with a similar study by the same authors published in Evolution (Olano-Marin et al. 2011b), forms an original contribution in two respects. First, in the same population, positive and negative HFCs were recorded, revealing both inbreeding and outbreeding depression depending on the trait studied (whereby both processes were reliant on unknown, and possibly different, sets of coding loci). Second, a large number of microsatellite markers were split into two functional groups: microsatellite markers were either designed using zebra finch expressed sequence tags (ESTs) or derived using traditional cloning methods and presumed to be neutral. Contrasting large classes of loci and their varying levels of polymorphism, rather than looking for one locus that would stand out among tens of randomly selected markers, pave the way for a more elegant and powerful approach to explore how HFCs vary across traits and among regions of the genome.

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Figure 1.  A blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) brood. Copyright: Max-Planck-Institute for Ornithology.

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