Inbreeding makes animals poorer parents

Inbreeding in animals impacts not only on those who are inbred, but also their offspring, a University study shows.

A study of beetles shows that those who are inbred - or whose parents are inbred - are equally less likely to survive, compared with animals with no family history of inbreeding.

Inbreeding is widely known to impact on chances of survival, but until now scientists hadn’t fully understood its effect on the next generation.

They say this may be explained by poor genes in the parents leading to compromised caring abilities, or low quality eggs and sperm.

Risk to animals

Researchers say that examining the impact of inbreeding on family groups will aid better understanding of the risk of inbreeding in populations of animals.

This is especially useful for animals that are vulnerable.

Meticulous parenting

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh studied a type of beetle, called the burying beetle, which is known for its meticulous parenting, including elaborate preparation and provision of food.

Researchers found that the chance of young beetles surviving was reduced for those who were inbred, and for those who were not themselves inbred but had inbred parents.

The impact was worse for beetles whose mothers, which provide most parenting care, were inbred.

Survival of young

The findings, say scientists, could lead to better understanding of how inbreeding in parents can reduce offspring survival in species whose parents care for their young.

Inbred animals are known to be at risk because they inherit similar genes from each parent, putting them at greater risk of ill-effects.

The study, published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council.

We were surprised the effect of inbreeding on the next generation is so strong. We hope to look in more detail at why this might be, and what other effects it might have.

Sarah MatteySchool of Biological Sciences