Sexually selected traits are often condition-dependent and are expected to be affected by genome-wide distributed deleterious mutations and inbreeding. However, sexual selection is a powerful selective force that can counteract inbreeding through purging of deleterious mutations. Inbreeding and purging of the inbreeding load for sexually selected traits has rarely been studied across natural populations with different degrees of inbreeding. Here we investigate inbreeding effects (measured as marker-based heterozygosity) on condition-dependent sexually selected signalling trait and other morphological traits across islet- and mainland populations (n = 15) of an endemic lizard species (Podarcis gaigeae). Our data suggest inbreeding depression on a condition-dependent sexually selected signalling character among mainland subpopulations with low or intermediate levels of inbreeding, but no sign of inbreeding depression among small and isolated islet populations despite their higher overall inbreeding levels. In contrast, there was no such pattern among ten other morphological traits which are primarily naturally selected and presumably not involved in sexual signalling. These results are in line with purging of recessive deleterious alleles, or purging in combination with stochastic fixation of alleles by genetic drift, for a sexual signalling character in the islet environment, which is characterized by low population sizes and strong sexual selection. Higher clutch sizes in islet populations also raise interesting questions regarding the possibility of antagonistic pleiotropy. Purging and other non-exclusive explanations of our results are discussed.
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