, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp 325-335

Inbreeding depression and the maintenance of genetic load in Melitaea cinxia metapopulations

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The effects of inbreeding on fitness and themaintenance of genetic load in metapopulationsof the endangered Glanville fritillarybutterfly (Melitaea cinxia) were examinedin four laboratory experiments. In FinlandM. cinxia occurs as a large metapopulationconsisting of small local populations with fastturnover, whereas in southern France thespecies has a more continuous populationstructure. In the experiments, we compared theperformance of crosses between full sibs,crosses between members of different familieswithin populations, and crosses betweenindividuals from different populations. Theseexperiments were replicated using insects fromtwo different regions, Finland and southernFrance, between which the frequency of naturalinbreeding should differ substantially becauseof differing population structure. In Finnishbutterflies, the rate of successful mating waslower among insects derived from small thanfrom large natural populations, probablyreflecting the effect of past inbreedinghistory. Mating between full sibs lowered egghatching rate in all experiments. Thisreduction of egg hatching rate was more severeamong French butterflies with a more continuouspopulation structure than among Finnishbutterflies with small naturally fragmentedpopulations and with a history of repeatedrounds of inbreeding in the past. This resultsuggests that recurrent inbreeding has led topartial purging of deleterious recessives fromthe Finnish metapopulation. Nonetheless,substantial genetic load still remains in thismetapopulation, and we discuss possible reasonswhy this should be the case.