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Evolution. 2006 Dec;60(12):2428-34.

The change in quantitative genetic variation with inbreeding.

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Institute of Zoology, University of Zürich, CH-8057 Zürich, Switzerland.


Inbreeding is known to reduce heterozygosity of neutral genetic markers, but its impact on quantitative genetic variation is debated. Theory predicts a linear decline in additive genetic variance (V(A)) with increasing inbreeding coefficient (F) when loci underlying the trait act additively, but a nonlinear hump-shaped relationship when dominance and epistasis are important. Predictions for heritability (h2) are similar, although the exact shape depends on the value of h2 in the absence of inbreeding. We located 22 published studies in which the level of genetic variation in experimentally inbred populations (measured by V(A) or h2) was compared with that in outbred control populations. For life-history traits, the data strongly supported a nonlinear change in genetic variation with increasing F. V(A) and h2 were, respectively, 244% and 50% higher at F = 0.4 than in outbred populations, and dominance plus epistatic variance together exceeded additive variance by a factor of four. For nonfitness traits the decline was linear and estimates of nonadditive variance were small. These results confirm that population bottlenecks frequently increase V(A) in some traits, and imply that life-history traits are underlain by substantial dominance or epistasis. However, the importance of drift-induced genetic variation in conservation or evolutionary biology is questionable, in part because inbreeding depression usually accompanies inbreeding.

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