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Heredity (Edinb). 2007 Mar;98(3):172-82. Epub 2006 Dec 20.

An investigation of inbreeding depression and purging in captive pedigreed populations.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.


We use regression models to investigate the effects of inbreeding in 119 zoo populations, encompassing 88 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Meta-analyses show that inbreeding depression for neonatal survival was significant across the 119 populations although the severity of inbreeding depression appears to vary among taxa. However, few predictors of a population's response to inbreeding are found reliable. The models are most likely to detect inbreeding depression in large populations, that is, in populations in which their statistical power is maximised. Purging was found to be significant in 14 populations and a significant trend of purging was found across populations. The change in inbreeding depression due to purging averaged across the 119 populations is <1%, however, suggesting that the fitness benefits of purging are rarely appreciable. The study re-emphasises the necessity to avoid inbreeding in captive breeding programmes and shows that purging cannot be relied upon to remove deleterious alleles from zoo populations.

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