Experimental evolution of the genetic load and its implications for the genetic basis of inbreeding depression

Charles W. Fox, Kristy L. Scheibly, David H. Reed

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


The degree to which, and rapidity with which, inbreeding depression can be purged from a population has important implications for conservation biology, captive breeding practices, and invasive species biology. The degree and rate of purging also informs us regarding the genetic mechanisms underlying inbreeding depression. We examine the evolution of mean survival and inbreeding depression in survival following serial inbreeding in a seed-feeding beetle, Stator limbatus, which shows substantial inbreeding depression at all stages of development. We created two replicate serially inbred populations perpetuated by full-sib matings and paired with outbred controls. The genetic load for the probability that an egg produces an adult was purged at ∼0.45-0.50 lethal equivalents/generation, a reduction of more than half after only three generations of sib-mating. After serial inbreeding we outcrossed all beetles then measured (1) larval survival of outcrossed beetles and (2) inbreeding depression. Survival of outcrossed beetles evolved to be higher in the serially inbred populations for all periods of development. Inbreeding depression and the genetic load were significantly lower in the serially inbred than control populations. Inbreeding depression affecting larval survival of S. limbatus is largely due to recessive deleterious alleles of large effect that can be rapidly purged from a population by serial sib-mating. However, the effectiveness of purging varied among the periods of egg/larval survival and likely varies among other unstudied fitness components. This study presents novel results showing rapid and extensive purging of the genetic load, specifically a reduction of as much as 72% in only three generations of sib-mating. However, the high rate of extinction of inbred lines, despite the lines being reared in a benign laboratory environment, indicates that intentional purging of the genetic load of captive endangered species will not be practical due to high rates of subpopulation extinction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2236-2249
Number of pages14
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2008


  • Genetic load
  • Inbreeding load
  • Sib-mating
  • Stator limbatus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (all)


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