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Population on the verge of a mutational meltdown? Fitness costs of genetic load for an amphibian in the wild

By Graham Rowe and Trevor J C Beebee


The fitness costs of high genetic load in wild populations have rarely been assessed under natural conditions. Such costs are expected to be greatest in small, bottlenecked populations, including those occurring near range edges. Britain is at the northwesterly range limit of the natterjack toad Bufo calamita. We compared fitness attributes in two populations of this amphibian with very different recent histories. Key larval fitness attributes in B. calamita, notably growth rate and metamorph production, were substantially higher in the large outbreeding population (Ainsdale) than in the small and isolated one (Saltfleetby). These differences were manifest under seminatural conditions, when larvae were reared in mesh cages within breeding ponds at the site of the small population, and were exacerbated by high stress treatments. The results indicate that genetic load effects can be sufficiently severe enough to predispose extinction over relatively short time frames, as predicted by extinction vortex models

Year: 2003
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