, Volume 151, Issue 1, pp 155-162
Date: 21 Jul 2009

Parental genetic characteristics and hatching success in a recovering population of Lesser Kestrels

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Decreased hatchability is a common consequence of inbreeding in oviparous organisms and it has been generally considered a useful measure of the effects of reduced genetic diversity on embryological development. Here, we examined the pattern of hatching failure in a wild population of the endangered Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni). Particularly, we first analyzed long-term changes of hatching failure over a 16-year study period (1991–2006), in which the study population experienced a concurrent demographic and genetic recovery, and then we determined the consequences of parental genetic characteristics on hatching success. Long-term data analyses revealed a significant decline of hatching failure over time, with annual average hatching failure decreasing from rates characterizing species that have passed a severe population bottleneck to levels generally reported for outbred bird populations. Partial purging of deleterious recessive alleles after the species population decline, the increase of heterozygosity over time reported in a previous study and/or the selection for efficient mechanisms of inbreeding avoidance could be responsible of the observed temporal pattern. In contrast to previous studies, we found no effect of parental genetic characteristics on hatching success. Even though we analyzed an extensive dataset, the 11 neutral markers typed may have had low power to detect such an association. Further, this analysis was limited to the last 5 years (2002–2006) of the whole study period, when DNA samples for genetic analyses were available. During these years, hatching rates were like those typically reported for non-inbred populations, suggesting that the absence of association could be explained by a reduction of the genetic load or consequence of the genetic recover reported in the study population in recent years.