Inbreeding and competitive ability in the common shrew (Sorex araneus)

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Common shrews (Sorex araneus) maintain a foraging territory for most of their immature life. Possessing a high-quality territory is vital for overwinter survival in the harsh boreal climate, and hence, competitive ability in territorial disputes is expected to be an important component of individual fitness. To test possible association between individual inbreeding and fitness, we used neutral arena trials to assess the competitive performance of young common shrews. The experiment involved pairs of individuals originating from small island populations, where breeding must often occur between related individuals, and from large outbred mainland populations. The percentage of neutral arena tests that an individual won was highly significantly explained by internal relatedness, a surrogate measure of individual inbreeding, measured using ten microsatellite markers. Body size, sex, learning, and population type (mainland vs island) made no significant contributions. Even a low level of individual inbreeding may lead to significant adverse consequences in multiple territorial contests, which may represent a significant cause of inbreeding depression in many wild vertebrate populations.

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