Effect of population size and selection on Toll-like receptor diversity in populations of Galápagos mockingbirds

J Evol Biol. 2023 Jan;36(1):109-120. doi: 10.1111/jeb.14121. Epub 2022 Nov 18.


The interactions of evolutionary forces are difficult to analyse in free-living populations. However, when properly understood, they provide valuable insights into evolutionary biology and conservation genetics. This is particularly important for the interplay of genetic drift and natural selection in immune genes that confer resistance to disease. The Galápagos Islands are inhabited by four closely related species of mockingbirds (Mimus spp.). We used 12 different-sized populations of Galápagos mockingbirds and one population of their continental relative northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) to study the effects of genetic drift on the molecular evolution of immune genes, the Toll-like receptors (TLRs: TLR1B, TLR4 and TLR15). We found that neutral genetic diversity was positively correlated with island size, indicating an important effect of genetic drift. However, for TLR1B and TLR4, there was little correlation between functional (e.g., protein) diversity and island size, and protein structural properties were largely conserved, indicating only a limited effect of genetic drift on molecular phenotype. By contrast, TLR15 was less conserved and even its putative functional polymorphism correlated with island size. The patterns observed for the three genes suggest that genetic drift does not necessarily dominate selection even in relatively small populations, but that the final outcome depends on the degree of selection constraint that is specific for each TLR locus.

Keywords: conservation genetics; innate immunity; island birds; molecular phenotype; purifying selection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Genetic Drift
  • Genetics, Population
  • Passeriformes* / genetics
  • Population Density
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Toll-Like Receptor 4* / genetics
  • Toll-Like Receptors / genetics


  • Toll-Like Receptor 4
  • Toll-Like Receptors

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.12180027.v4