Genomics advances the study of inbreeding depression in the wild

Evol Appl. 2016 Oct 23;9(10):1205-1218. doi: 10.1111/eva.12414. eCollection 2016 Dec.


Inbreeding depression (reduced fitness of individuals with related parents) has long been a major focus of ecology, evolution, and conservation biology. Despite decades of research, we still have a limited understanding of the strength, underlying genetic mechanisms, and demographic consequences of inbreeding depression in the wild. Studying inbreeding depression in natural populations has been hampered by the inability to precisely measure individual inbreeding. Fortunately, the rapidly increasing availability of high-throughput sequencing data means it is now feasible to measure the inbreeding of any individual with high precision. Here, we review how genomic data are advancing our understanding of inbreeding depression in the wild. Recent results show that individual inbreeding and inbreeding depression can be measured more precisely with genomic data than via traditional pedigree analysis. Additionally, the availability of genomic data has made it possible to pinpoint loci with large effects contributing to inbreeding depression in wild populations, although this will continue to be a challenging task in many study systems due to low statistical power. Now that reliably measuring individual inbreeding is no longer a limitation, a major focus of future studies should be to more accurately quantify effects of inbreeding depression on population growth and viability.

Keywords: conservation genetics; fitness; identity by descent; pedigree analysis; whole‐genome resequencing.

Publication types

  • Review