Recent genetic studies of natural populations have shown that heterozygosity and other genetic estimates of parental relatedness correlate with a wide variety of fitness traits, from juvenile survival and parasite resistance to male reproductive success. Many of these traits involve health and survival, where the underlying mechanism may involve changes in the effectiveness of the immune system. However, for traits such as reproductive success, the likely mechanisms remain less obvious. In this paper, we examine the relationship between heterozygosity and a range of traits that contribute to male reproductive success, including time spent on territories and competitiveness. Our analysis is based on observational and genetic data from eight consecutive breeding seasons at a colony of the Antarctic fur seal, Arctocephalus gazella. Overall, male reproductive success was found to correlate strongly with internal relatedness (IR, a form of heterozygosity). When different components of success were analyzed, we found that IR correlates independently with reproductive longevity, time spent ashore, and competitive ability per unit mating opportunity on the study beach, with more heterozygous males being more successful. Behavioral observations were sufficiently detailed to allow examination of how daily mean IR values for males present on the beach varied within seasons and from year to year. Again, significant variation was found both among and within seasons, with more homozygous males appearing less able to hold territories in poor seasons when pup production is low and, within a season, at both the start of the season and to some extent around the peak of female estrus. Finally, we tested whether the benefits of high heterozygosity are due mainly to a genomewide effect (e.g. inbreeding depression) or to single locus heterosis by asking whether the relationship between IR and male success was robust to the removal of any single locus or to any pair of loci. Since the relationship remained significant in all cases, we favor a multilocus explanation for the effects we report.
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Vol. 58 • No. 9