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Adult survival and microsatellite diversity in possums: effects of major histocompatibility complex-linked microsatellite diversity but not multilocus inbreeding estimators


Adult survival is perhaps the fitness parameter most important to population growth in long-lived species. Intrinsic and extrinsic covariates of survival are therefore likely to be important drivers of population dynamics. We used long-term mark-recapture data to identify genetic, individual and environmental covariates of local survival in a natural population of mountain brushtail possums (Trichosurus cunninghami). Rainfall and intra-individual diversity at microsatellite DNA markers were associated with increased local survival of adults and juveniles. We contrasted the performance of several microsatellite heterozygosity measures, including internal relatedness (IR), homozygosity by loci (HL) and the mean multilocus estimate of the squared difference in microsatellite allele sizes within an individual (mean d 2). However, the strongest effect on survival was not associated with multilocus microsatellite diversity (which would indicate a genome-wide inbreeding effect), but a subset of two loci. This included a major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-linked marker and a putatively neutral microsatellite locus. For both loci, diversity measures incorporating allele size information had stronger associations with survival than measures based on heterozygosity, whether or not allele frequency information was included (such as IR). Increased survival was apparent among heterozygotes at the MHC-linked locus, but the benefits of heterozygosity to survival were reduced in heterozygotes with larger differences in allele size. The effect of heterozygosity on fitness-related traits was supported by data on endoparasites in a subset of the individuals studied in this population. There was no apparent density dependence in survival, nor an effect of sex, age or immigrant status. Our findings suggest that in the apparent absence of inbreeding, variation at specific loci can generate strong associations between fitness and diversity at linked markers.

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    We also used generalised linear models to test for potential effects of age and gender. Since none were identified, we used the simple correlation analysis here for consistency with Test 2.


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This work was supported by the Hermon Slade Foundation (grant 08-4), the Australian Research Council (project DP0984876) and the Commonwealth Environment Research Facility Applied Environmental Decision Analysis research hub. Thanks to Lachlan McBurney, Damian Michael, Chris Macgregor and Mason Crane for assistance in the field. The manuscript editor, Jörg Ganzhorn, and two anonymous referees provided constructive criticism of an earlier version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Sam C. Banks.

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Communicated by Jörg Ganzhorn.

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Banks, S.C., Dubach, J., Viggers, K.L. et al. Adult survival and microsatellite diversity in possums: effects of major histocompatibility complex-linked microsatellite diversity but not multilocus inbreeding estimators. Oecologia 162, 359–370 (2010).

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  • Survival
  • Mark-recapture
  • Major histocompatibility complex
  • Assignment test
  • Parasite load