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Keywords:

  • heritability;
  • heterozygosity-fitness correlation;
  • microsatellite;
  • Passer domesticus;
  • plasticity;
  • reaction norm

Abstract

We investigated the link between heterozygosity and the reaction norm attributes of reproductive performance in female house sparrows (Passer domesticus). We collected data on clutch size, egg size, hatching success and nestling survival in 2816 nesting attempts made by 791 marked individuals over a 16-year period. Pedigree analysis revealed no evidence of inbreeding. Neither parent–offspring regression nor an animal model revealed significant heritability in clutch or egg size. We selected 42 females that laid at least seven clutches at our study site and used a survey of 21 autosomal microsatellite loci to estimate heterozygosity for each female. We controlled for phenotypic plasticity and found that both clutch and egg size showed significant positive correlations with heterozygosity. We found no evidence that heterozygosity influenced the slope of individual reaction norms. Further analysis suggested that clutch size was affected by heterozygosity across the genome, but egg size had more complex relationships, with evidence favouring the influence of multiple loci. Given the apparent lack of inbreeding and large population size, our results suggest associative overdominance as the likely mechanism for the impact of heterozygosity, but also created a puzzle about the process producing associations between neutral markers and the genes affecting clutch size or egg size. One possible explanation is a long-term residual effect of the historical bottleneck that occurred when house sparrows were introduced into North America. The existence of heterozygosity-fitness correlations in a population with considerable phenotypic plasticity and little inbreeding implies that the effects of heterozygosity may be more significant than previously thought.