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Limited inbreeding depression in a bottlenecked population is age but not environment dependent


  • Rebecca J. Laws,

  • Sheena M. Townsend,

  • Shinichi Nakagawa,

  • Ian G. Jamieson

R. J. Laws, S. M. Townsend, S. Nakagawa and I. G. Jamieson (, Dept of Zoology, Univ. of Otago, PO Box, Dunedin, New Zealand.


Inbreeding depression is known to vary greatly between populations and among species. Some of this variation is due to differences in genetic load between populations, while some is due to differences in the environment (e.g. local weather conditions) or demography of the population (e.g. age structure and breeding experience) in which inbreeding is expressed. Although the effects of these factors in isolation are well understood, there is still relatively little known about the interface between inbreeding on one hand, and environment and demography on the other in wild populations. We examined how environmental and demographic factors mediated the effects of inbreeding in a threatened species of bird. The Stewart Island robin, Petroica australis rakiura, has been subjected to a prolonged bottleneck for over 150 years. A complete pedigree of a reintroduced island population, extending back seven seasons to its founding, was available for analysis along with survival data (at the level of the brood) obtained from intensive monitoring over two breeding seasons. We found no strong support that the degree to which a brood was inbred affected its survival at either the hatching, fledging or recruitment stages. The inbreeding coefficient of the mother did have an effect on brood survival when analysed over all three life history stages, but only as a result of an interaction with female age, with broods of one-year-old inbred females suffering greater mortality than those of older inbred females. Although habitat type, temperature, rainfall and year were the best predictors of brood survival for most life history stages, their effects were weak and there were no interactions with inbreeding. Furthermore, there was no strong evidence of inbreeding depression associated with two periods of severe weather. This population is atypical in that inbreeding depression appears to be weak even under severe environmental conditions, and may be indicative that this bottlenecked population has either reduced genetic load or has fixed deleterious alleles.