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Genetic drift outweighs natural selection at toll-like receptor (TLR) immunity loci in a re-introduced population of a threatened species

Authors

  • Catherine E. Grueber,

    Corresponding authorCurrent affiliation:
    1. Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, Palmerston North, New Zealand
    • Department of Zoology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
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  • Graham P. Wallis,

    1. Department of Zoology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
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  • Ian G. Jamieson

    1. Department of Zoology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
    Current affiliation:
    1. Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, Palmerston North, New Zealand
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Correspondence: Catherine E. Grueber, Fax: +64 3 479 7584; E-mail: catherine.grueber@otago.ac.nz

Abstract

During population establishment, genetic drift can be the key driver of changes in genetic diversity, particularly while the population is small. However, natural selection can also play a role in shaping diversity at functionally important loci. We used a well-studied, re-introduced population of the threatened Stewart Island robin (= 722 pedigreed individuals) to determine whether selection shaped genetic diversity at innate immunity toll-like receptor (TLR) genes, over a 9-year period of population growth following establishment with 12 genetic founders. We found no evidence for selection operating with respect to TLR diversity on first-year overwinter survival for the majority of loci, genotypes and alleles studied. However, survival of individuals with TLR4BE genotype was significantly improved: these birds were less than half as likely to die prior to maturity compared with all other TLR4 genotypes. Furthermore, the population frequency of this genotype, at a two-fold excess over Hardy–Weinberg expectation, was increased by nonrandom mating. Near-complete sampling and full pedigree and reproductive data enabled us to eliminate other potential causes of these patterns including inbreeding, year effects, density dependence, selection on animals at earlier life history stages or genome-level association of the TLR4E allele with ‘good genes’. However, comparison of observed levels of gene diversity to predictions under simulated genetic drift revealed results consistent with neutral expectations for all loci, including TLR4. Although selection favoured TLR4BE heterozygotes in this population, these effects were insufficient to outweigh genetic drift. This is the first empirical study to show that genetic drift can overwhelm natural selection in a wild population immediately following establishment.

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