Multilocus heterozygosity, parental relatedness and individual fitness components in a wild mountain goat, Oreamnos americanus population


Julien Mainguy, Steeve D. Côté, and David W. Coltman


Molecular Ecology 18(10): 2297–2306; 2009


Matings between relatives lead to a decrease in offspring genetic diversity which can reduce fitness, a phenomenon known as inbreeding depression. Because alpine ungulates generally live in small structured populations and often exhibit a polygynous mating system, they are susceptible to inbreeding. Here, we used marker-based measures of pairwise genetic relatedness and inbreeding to investigate the fitness consequences of matings between relatives in a long-term study population of mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) at Caw Ridge, Alberta, Canada. We first assessed whether individuals avoided mating with kin by comparing actual and random mating pairs according to their estimated genetic relatedness, which was derived from 25 unlinked polymorphic microsatellite markers and reflected pedigree relatedness. We then examined whether individual multilocus heterozygosity H, used as a measure of inbreeding, was predicted by parental relatedness and associated with yearling survival and the annual probability of giving birth to a kid in adult females. Breeding pairs identified by genetic parentage analyses of offspring that survived to 1 year of age were less genetically related than expected under random matings. Parental relatedness was negatively correlated with offspring H, and more heterozygous yearlings had higher survival to 2 years of age. The probability of giving birth was not affected by H in adult females. Because kids that survived to yearling age were mainly produced by less genetically related parents, our results suggest that some individuals experienced inbreeding depression in early life. Future research will be required to quantify the levels of gene flow between different herds, and evaluate their effects on population genetic diversity and dynamics.