Experimental infection magnifies inbreeding depression in house mice


Petteri Ilmonen, Konrad Lorenz Institute for Ethology, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Savoyenstr. 1a, A-1160 Vienna, Austria.
Tel.: +43 1 515 81 2726; fax: +43 1 515 81 2800;
e-mail: p.ilmonen@klivv.oeaw.ac.at


It is often assumed that inbreeding reduces resistance to pathogens, yet there are few experimental tests of this idea in vertebrates, and no tests for the effects of moderate levels of inbreeding more commonly found in nature. We mated wild-derived mice with siblings or first cousins and compared the resistance of their offspring to Salmonella infection with outbred controls under laboratory and seminatural conditions. In the laboratory, full-sib inbreeding reduced resistance to Salmonella and survivorship, whereas first-cousin inbreeding had no detectable effects. In competitive population enclosures, we found that first-cousin inbreeding reduced male fitness by 57% in infected vs. only 34% in noninfected control populations. Our study provides experimental evidence that inbreeding reduces resistance and ability to survive pathogenic infection, and moreover, it shows that even moderate inbreeding can cause significant fitness declines under naturalistic conditions of social stress, and especially with exposure to infectious agents.