Birth weight and neonatal survival of harbour seal pups are positively correlated with genetic variation measured by microsatellites

David W. Coltman, W.Don Bowen, Jonathan M. Wright


We examined the relations between fitness-related traits of wild harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) pups with microsatellite heterozygosity, and with a measure of genomic diversity based on the mean squared distance between microsatellite alleles within an individual, mean d2. Birth weight was positively influenced by maternal age, pup sex, and either mean d2 or individual heterozygosity in separate multiple regression models. The association of birth weight with mean d2 was stronger than that with heterozygosity, however. The factors maternal age, pup sex, and mean d2 combined to account for 36.8% of the variation in birth weight, with mean d2 accounting for the greatest explanatory power (52.3% of the variance explained). Pups which survived until weaning had significantly higher mean d2 than pups which died, independent of birth weight. These effects are consistent with heterosis resulting from recent population mixing, and/or inbreeding depression in this population. Mean d2 thus provides (i) a better measure of individual genetic variability than heterozygosity for microsatellite data; and (ii) a convenient tool for assessing the effects of inbreeding and outbreeding in natural populations.