Inbreeding, heterozygosity and fitness in a reintroduced population of endangered African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus)

22 March 2011

It is crucial to understand the genetic health and implications of inbreeding in wildlife populations, especially of vulnerable species. Using extensive demographic and genetic data, we investigated the relationships among pedigree inbreeding coefficients, metrics of molecular heterozygosity and fitness for a large population of endangered African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) in South Africa. Molecular metrics based on 19 microsatellite loci were significantly, but modestly correlated to inbreeding coefficients in this population. Inbred wild dogs with inbreeding coefficients of C0.25 and subordinate individuals had shorter lifespans than outbred and dominant contemporaries, suggesting some deleterious effects of inbreeding. However, this trend was confounded by packspecific effects as many inbred individuals originated from a single large pack. Despite wild dogs being endangered and existing in small populations, findings within our sample population indicated that molecular metrics were not robust predictors in models of fitness based on breeding pack formation, dominance, reproductive success or lifespan of individuals. Nonetheless, our approach has generated a vital database for future comparative studies to examine these relationships over longer periods of time. Such detailed assessments are essential given knowledge that wild canids can be highly vulnerable to inbreeding effects over a few short generations.