Environmental dependence of inbreeding depression and purging in Drosophila melanogaster

R.G. Bijlsma, J. Bundgaard, W.F. Van Putten

    Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review


    Elimination or reduction of inbreeding depression by natural selection at the contributing loci (purging) has been hypothesized to effectively mitigate the negative effects of inbreeding in small isolated populations. This may, however, only be valid when the environmental conditions are relatively constant. We tested this assumption using Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism. By means of chromosome balancers, chromosomes were sampled from a wild population and their viability was estimated in both homozygous and heterozygous conditions in a favourable environment. Around 50% of the chromosomes were found to carry a lethal or sublethal mutation, which upon inbreeding would cause a considerable amount of inbreeding depression. These detrimentals were artificially purged by selecting only chromosomes that in homozygous condition had a viability comparable to that of the heterozygotes (quasi-normals), thereby removing most deleterious recessive alleles. Next, these quasi-normals were tested both for egg-to-adult viability and for total fitness under different environmental stress conditions: high-temperature stress, DDT stress, ethanol stress, and crowding. Under these altered stressful conditions, particularly for high temperature and DDT, novel recessive deleterious effects were expressed that were not apparent under control conditions. Some of these chromosomes were even found to carry lethal or near-lethal mutations under stress. Compared with heterozygotes, homozygotes showed on average 25% additional reduction in total fitness. Our results show that, except for mutations that affect fitness under all environmental conditions, inbreeding depression may be due to different loci in different environments. Hence purging of deleterious recessive alleles can be effective only for the particular environment in which the purging occurred, because additional load will become expressed under changing environmental conditions. These results not only indicate that inbreeding depression is environment dependent, but also that inbreeding depression may become more severe under changing stressful conditions. These observations have significant consequences for conservation biology. [KEYWORDS: conditional lethals and detrimentals ; conservation biology ; Drosophila melanogaster ; environmental stress ; genotypeenvironment interaction ; inbreeding depression ; purging ; recessive deleterious mutations]
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1125-1137
    JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 1999




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