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Outbreeding increases offspring survival in wild greater horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum)

S. J. Rossiter, G. Jones, R. D. Ransome, E. M. Barratt

Abstract

The factors influencing the survival of greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum) offspring born over seven years at a maternity colony in south-west Britain were studied. The effects of a range of phenotypic and maternal variables were analysed using a historical data set. In addition, the influence of two genetic measures on mortality, individual heterozygosity and a new measure of outbreeding, termed mean d2, was assessed. Logistic regressions were undertaken with survival modelled as a binary response variable. Survival to two life stages was studied for each variable and all models were developed for both sexes separately and together. Only one variable, mean d2, was significantly associated with survival. Male offspring with high mean d2 scores were more likely to survive to their first and second summers. The influence of mean d2 was not due to a single locus under selection but a wider multilocus effect and probably represents heterosis as opposed to solely inbreeding depression. Therefore, the extent to which an individual is outbred may determine survival more than widely used phenotypic characteristics such as size and mass. Mean d2 may reflect immunocompetence, which influences mortality. Protection of mating sites in order to facilitate gene flow and, therefore, outbreeding may help to promote population stability and growth.

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