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Heterozygosity-fitness correlations among wild populations of European tree frogs (Hyla arborea) detect fixation load.
Quantifying the impacts of inbreeding and genetic drift on fitness traits in fragmented populations is becoming a major goal in conservation biology. Such impacts occur at different levels and involve different sets of loci. Genetic drift randomly fixes slightly deleterious alleles leading to different fixation load among populations. By contrast, inbreeding depression arises from highly deleterious alleles in segregation within a population and creates variation among individuals. A popular approach is to measure correlations between molecular variation and phenotypic performances. This approach has been mainly used at the individual level to detect inbreeding depression within populations and sometimes at the population level but without consideration about the genetic processes measured. For the first time, we used in this study a molecular approach considering both the interpopulation and intrapopulation level to discriminate the relative importance of inbreeding depression vs. fixation load in isolated and non-fragmented populations of European tree frog (Hyla arborea), complemented with interpopulational crosses. We demonstrated that the positive correlations observed between genetic heterozygosity and larval performances on merged data were mainly caused by co-variations in genetic diversity and fixation load among populations rather than by inbreeding depression and segregating deleterious alleles within populations. Such a method is highly relevant in a conservation perspective because, depending on how populations lose fitness (inbreeding vs. fixation load), specific management actions may be designed to improve the persistence of populations.
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