Dynamics of genetic rescue in inbred Drosophila melanogaster populations

R. Bijlsma*, M. D. D. Westerhof, L. P. Roekx, I. Pen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)
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Genetic rescue has been proposed as a management strategy to improve the fitness of genetically eroded populations by alleviating inbreeding depression. We studied the dynamics of genetic rescue in inbred populations of Drosophila. Using balancer chromosomes, we show that the force of heterosis that accompanies genetic rescue is large and allows even a recessive lethal to increase substantially in frequency in the rescued populations, particularly at stress temperatures. This indicates that deleterious alleles present in the immigrants can increase significantly in frequency in the recipient population when they are in linkage disequilibrium with genes responsible for the heterosis. In a second experiment we rescued eight inbred Drosophila populations with immigrants from two other inbred populations and observe: (i) there is a significant increase in viability both 5 and 10 generations after the rescue event, showing that the increase in fitness is not transient but persists long-term. (ii) The lower the fitness of the recipient population the larger the fitness increase. (iii) The increase in fitness depends significantly on the origin of the rescuers. The immigrants used were fixed for a conditional lethal that was mildly deleterious at 25A degrees C but lethal at 29A degrees C. By comparing fitness at 25A degrees C (the temperature during the rescue experiment) and 29A degrees C, we show that the lethal allele reached significant frequencies in most rescued populations, which upon renewed inbreeding became fixed in part of the inbred lines. In conclusion, in addition to the fitness increase genetic rescue can easily result in a substantial increase in the frequency of mildly deleterious alleles carried by the immigrants. This can endanger the rescued population greatly when it undergoes recurrent inbreeding. However, using a sufficient number of immigrants and to accompany the rescue event with the right demographic measures will overcome this problem. As such, genetic rescue still is a viable option to manage genetically eroded populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-462
Number of pages14
JournalConservation Genetics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr-2010
EventESF-ConGen Meeting on Integrating Population Genetics and Conservation Biology - , Norway
Duration: 23-May-200927-May-2009


  • Drosophila
  • Gene flow
  • Genetic drift
  • Genetic load
  • Genetic rescue
  • Inbreeding
  • Inbreeding depression

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