Inbreeding, fluctuating asymmetry, and ejaculate quality in an endangered ungulate

E. R. S. Roldan , J. Cassinello , T. Abaigar , M. Gomendio

Abstract

An ever–increasing number of species are suffering marked reductions in population size as a consequence of human activities. To understand the impact of these changes it is essential to assess how small population size affects individual fitness and the viability of populations. This issue acquires special relevance among endangered species in which numbers have decreased to such an extent that captive breeding must be established with a few founders. A major risk associated with small population size is inbreeding depression. The effects of inbreeding upon male reproductive traits are the subject of an ongoing controversy, since the evidence linking lack of genetic variability and poor ejaculate quality at the population level has been criticized recently by several authors. We report that among Gazella cuvieri males, inbreeding coefficient shows a strong inverse relationship with ejaculate quality. Furthermore, the degree of fluctuating asymmetry is positively related to the coefficient of inbreeding and negatively related to the proportion of normal sperm, suggesting that it is a reliable indicator of genetic stress and of ejaculate quality.