1. Conservation biologists are concerned about the interactive effects of environmental stress and inbreeding because such interactions could affect the dynamics and extinction risk of small and isolated populations, but few studies have tested for these interactions in nature.
2. We used data from the long-term population study of song sparrows Melospiza melodia on Mandarte Island to examine the joint effects of inbreeding and environmental stress on four fitness traits that are known to be affected by the inbreeding level of adult birds: hatching success, laying date, male mating success and fledgling survival.
3. We found that inbreeding depression interacted with environmental stress to reduce hatching success in the nests of inbred females during periods of rain.
4. For laying date, we found equivocal support for an interaction between parental inbreeding and environmental stress. In this case, however, inbred females experienced less inbreeding depression in more stressful, cooler years.
5. For two other traits, we found no evidence that the strength of inbreeding depression varied with environmental stress. First, mated males fathered fewer nests per season if inbred or if the ratio of males to females in the population was high, but inbreeding depression did not depend on sex ratio. Second, fledglings survived poorly during rainy periods and if their father was inbred, but the effects of paternal inbreeding and rain did not interact.
6. Thus, even for a single species, interactions between the inbreeding level and environmental stress may not occur in all traits affected by inbreeding depression, and interactions that do occur will not always act synergistically to further decrease fitness.
- Darwin's finches
- environmental variability
- inbreeding depression
- population viability
- stress by inbreeding interaction
- genetic similarity
- hatching failure
- song sparrows
- island population