Moderate inbreeding depression in a reintroduced population of North Island robins


Ian G. Jamieson, Department of Zoology, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand. Fax: 64 3 479-7584


Reintroductions of threatened species are increasingly common in conservation. The translocation of a small subset of individuals from a genetically diverse source population could potentially lead to substantial inbreeding depression due to the high genetic load of the parent population. We analysed 12 years of data from the reintroduced population of North Island robins Petroica longipes on Tiritiri Matangi Island, New Zealand, to determine the frequency of inbreeding and magnitude of inbreeding depression. The initial breeding population consisted of 12 females and 21 males, which came from a large mainland population of robins. The frequency of mating between relatives (f>0; 39%, n=82 pairs) and close relatives (f=0.25; 6.1%) and the average level of inbreeding (f=0.027) were within the range reported for other small island populations of birds. The average level of inbreeding fluctuated from year to year depending on the frequency of close inbreeding (e.g. sib–sib pairs). We found evidence for inbreeding depression in juvenile survival, with survival probability estimated to decline from 31% among non-inbred birds (f=0) to 11% in highly inbred juveniles (f=0.25). The estimated number of lethal equivalents based on this relationship (4.14) was moderate compared with values reported for other island populations of passerines. Given that significant loss of fitness was only evident in highly inbred individuals, and such individuals were relatively rare once the population expanded above 30 pairs, we conclude that inbreeding depression should have little influence on this robin population. Although the future fitness consequences of any loss of genetic variation due to inbreeding are uncertain, the immediate impact of inbreeding depression is likely to be low in any reintroduced population that expands relatively quickly after establishment.