Parasites as mediators of heterozygosity–fitness correlations in the Great Tit (Parus major)

Authors


Beatrice Voegeli, Evolutionary Ecology Lab, Institute of Ecology and Evolution, University of Bern, Baltzerstrasse 6, 3012 Bern, Switzerland.
Tel.: +41 31 631 30 18; fax: +41 31 631 30 08; e-mails: bvoegeli@gmx.ch, heinz.richner@iee.unibe.ch

Abstract

Positive correlations between heterozygosity and fitness traits are frequently observed, and it has been hypothesized, but rarely tested experimentally, that parasites play a key role in mediating the heterozygosity–fitness association. We evaluated this hypothesis in a wild great tit (Parus major) population by testing the prediction that the heterozygosity–fitness association would appear in broods experimentally infested with a common ectoparasite, but not in parasite-free broods. We simultaneously assessed the effects of parental and offspring heterozygosity on nestling growth and found that body mass of nestlings close to independence, which is a strong predictor of post-fledging survival, increased significantly with nestling levels of heterozygosity in experimentally infested nests, but not in parasite-free nests. Heterozygosity level of the fathers also showed a significant positive correlation with offspring body mass under an experimental parasite load, whereas there was no correlation with the mothers’ level of heterozygosity. Thus, our results indicate a key role for parasites as mediators of the heterozygosity–fitness correlations.

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