• dominance;
  • genetic variation;
  • inbreeding depression;
  • memory;
  • purging


Inbreeding adversely affects life history traits as well as various other fitness-related traits, but its effect on cognitive traits remains largely unexplored, despite their importance to fitness of many animals under natural conditions. We studied the effects of inbreeding on aversive learning (avoidance of an odour previously associated with mechanical shock) in multiple inbred lines of Drosophila melanogaster derived from a natural population through up to 12 generations of sib mating. Whereas the strongly inbred lines after 12 generations of inbreeding (0.75 < < 0.93) consistently showed reduced egg-to-adult viability (on average by 28%), the reduction in learning performance varied among assays (average = 18% reduction), being most pronounced for intermediate conditioning intensity. Furthermore, moderately inbred lines (= 0.38) showed no detectable decline in learning performance, but still had reduced egg-to-adult viability, which indicates that overall inbreeding effects on learning are mild. Learning performance varied among strongly inbred lines, indicating the presence of segregating variance for learning in the base population. However, the learning performance of some inbred lines matched that of outbred flies, supporting the dominance rather than the overdominance model of inbreeding depression for this trait. Across the inbred lines, learning performance was positively correlated with the egg-to-adult viability. This positive genetic correlation contradicts a trade-off observed in previous selection experiments and suggests that much of the genetic variation for learning is owing to pleiotropic effects of genes affecting functions related to survival. These results suggest that genetic variation that affects learning specifically (rather than pleiotropically through general physiological condition) is either low or mostly due to alleles with additive (semi-dominant) effects.