Conservation Genetics

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 401–412 | Cite as

Inbreeding, heterozygosity and fitness in a reintroduced population of endangered African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus)

  • Penny A. SpieringEmail author
  • Micaela Szykman Gunther
  • Michael J. Somers
  • David E. Wildt
  • Michele Walters
  • Amy S. Wilson
  • Jesús E. Maldonado
Research Article


It is crucial to understand the genetic health and implications of inbreeding in wildlife populations, especially of vulnerable species. Using extensive demographic and genetic data, we investigated the relationships among pedigree inbreeding coefficients, metrics of molecular heterozygosity and fitness for a large population of endangered African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) in South Africa. Molecular metrics based on 19 microsatellite loci were significantly, but modestly correlated to inbreeding coefficients in this population. Inbred wild dogs with inbreeding coefficients of ≥0.25 and subordinate individuals had shorter lifespans than outbred and dominant contemporaries, suggesting some deleterious effects of inbreeding. However, this trend was confounded by pack-specific effects as many inbred individuals originated from a single large pack. Despite wild dogs being endangered and existing in small populations, findings within our sample population indicated that molecular metrics were not robust predictors in models of fitness based on breeding pack formation, dominance, reproductive success or lifespan of individuals. Nonetheless, our approach has generated a vital database for future comparative studies to examine these relationships over longer periods of time. Such detailed assessments are essential given knowledge that wild canids can be highly vulnerable to inbreeding effects over a few short generations.


Endangered Heterozygosity-fitness correlation Inbreeding Lifespan Lycaon pictus 



We thank Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife, especially the management teams at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park and the uMkhuze section of iSimangaliso Wetland Park. We also appreciate the assistance of Thanda Private Game Reserve and the wildlife management team. We are grateful to Rob Fleischer, Emily Latch, Sarah Haas, Kalon Armstrong and Nancy Rotzel of the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute for help with laboratory protocols and procedures. Sarah Arnoff, Jan Graf, Gabriella Flacke, Mariana Venter, Carla Naude-Graaff, Sboniso (Zama) Zwane, Brendan Whittington-Jones, Chris Kelly and Warren Becker provided invaluable assistance in the field. We thank Robert Sivinski and Scott Wilson of the Smithsonian’s Migratory Bird Center for statistical advice. This research was supported by the Smithsonian Institution Undersecretary for Science Endowment Fund, the University of Pretoria, Rotterdam Zoo Thandiza Fund, Humboldt State University Sponsored Program Foundation, Conservation Endowment Fund of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, Knowsley Safari Park, DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology, Khaki Fever Work Wear, Pittsburgh Zoo Conservation Fund and the Morris Animal Foundation. International travel was generously provided by British Airways.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Penny A. Spiering
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Micaela Szykman Gunther
    • 2
    • 4
  • Michael J. Somers
    • 3
    • 5
  • David E. Wildt
    • 2
  • Michele Walters
    • 3
    • 6
    • 7
  • Amy S. Wilson
    • 1
  • Jesús E. Maldonado
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Conservation and Evolutionary GeneticsSmithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, National Zoological ParkWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.Center for Species SurvivalSmithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, National Zoological ParkFront RoyalUSA
  3. 3.Centre for Wildlife ManagementUniversity of PretoriaPretoriaSouth Africa
  4. 4.Department of WildlifeHumboldt State UniversityArcataUSA
  5. 5.Centre for Invasion BiologyUniversity of PretoriaPretoriaSouth Africa
  6. 6.Biosystematics Research & Biodiversity Collections DivisionSouth African National Biodiversity InstitutePretoriaSouth Africa
  7. 7.Council for Scientific and Industrial ResearchNatural Resources and the EnvironmentPretoriaSouth Africa

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