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Keywords:

  • bottleneck;
  • inbreeding depression;
  • juvenile survival;
  • lethal equivalents;
  • Petroica australis;
  • purging

Abstract

Continuous inbreeding exposes deleterious recessive alleles to selection and can thereby lead to partial purging of the genetic load and reduced inbreeding depression. Purging has been well documented in experimental laboratory populations, but evidence of reduced inbreeding depression due to purging in wild populations is largely lacking. This study examines the inbreeding load associated with juvenile survival at a protected island site of a bottlenecked population of the Stewart Island robin Petroica australis rakiura. Based on a complete pedigree of the island population, we found little evidence that inbreeding coefficients explained any additional variation in juvenile survival, once demographic factors such as the effects of density, timing of fledging and age of mother were taken into account. Lethal equivalents, a standardized measure of the strength of inbreeding depression, were close to zero (B=0.24, 95% CI=−1.92–1.04, n=326) and lower than that documented for an island population of a widespread congener (B=6.71, 95% CI=−0.66–14.08, n=238) and for several other species for which significant inbreeding depression was detected (B=1.30–7.47). There are several reasons as to why studies can fail to detect pedigree-based inbreeding depression in wild populations, but evidence presented here of low lethal equivalents and relatively high survival of both inbred and non-inbred juveniles are consistent with a population that has undergone partial purging of its genetic load during historical population bottlenecks. Although our study does not imply a complete absence of inbreeding depression, it is one of the first studies of a wild population where weak inbreeding depression for juvenile survival appears to be associated with a prolonged bottleneck.