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The causes and magnitude of inbreeding depression are of considerable importance for a wide range of issues in evolutionary and conservation biology, but we have only a limited understanding of inbreeding depression in natural populations. Here, we present a study of inbreeding in a large wild population of collared flycatchers (Ficedula albicollis). Inbreeding was rare, to the extent that we detected only 1.04% of 2139 matings over 18 years that resulted in offspring with a non-zero inbreeding coefficient, f > 0. When it did occur, inbreeding caused a significant reduction in the egg-hatching rate, in fledgling skeletal size and in post-fledging juvenile survival, with the number of offspring being recruited to the breeding population from a nest of f = 0.25 being reduced by 94% relative to a non-inbred nest. A maximum-likelihood estimate of the number of lethal equivalents per gamete was very high at B = 7.47, indicating a substantial genetic load in this population. There was also a non-significant tendency for inbreeding depression to increase with the strength of selection on a trait. The probability of mating between close relatives (f = 0.25) increased throughout the breeding season, possibly reflecting increased costs of inbreeding avoidance. Our results illustrate how severe inbreeding depression and considerable genetic load may exist in natural populations, but detecting them may require extensive long-term datasets.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Biol Sci

Publication Date





1581 - 1589


Animals, Body Constitution, Environment, Female, Genes, Lethal, Genetic Variation, Inbreeding, Male, Probability, Reproduction, Selection, Genetic, Songbirds, Survival Rate