Toll-like receptor variation in the bottlenecked population of the endangered Seychelles warbler

D. L. Gilroy, C. van Oosterhout, J. Komdeur, D. S. Richardson

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In small populations, drift results in a loss of genetic variation, which reduces adaptive evolutionary potential. Furthermore, the probability of consanguineous mating increases which may result in inbreeding depression. Under certain circumstances, balancing selection can counteract drift and maintain variation at key loci. Identifying such loci is important from a conservation perspective and may provide insight into how different evolutionary forces interact in small populations. Toll-like receptor (TLR) genes play a pivotal role in vertebrate innate immune defence by recognizing invading pathogens. We characterize TLR variation in the Seychelles warbler (SW) Acrocephalus sechellensis, an endangered passerine that recently suffered a population bottleneck. Five of seven TLR loci were polymorphic, with one locus (TLR15) containing four functional variants and showing an excess of heterozygotes. Haplotype-level tests failed to detect selection at these loci, but site-specific tests detected signatures of positive selection within TLR3 and TLR15. After characterizing variation (excluding TLR15) in 5–6 other Acrocephalus species, we found that TLR variation was positively correlated with population size across species and followed the pattern observed at neutral microsatellite loci. The depauperate TLR variation observed suggests that even at important immunity-related loci, balancing selection may only attenuate the overriding effects of drift. However, in the SW, TLR15 appears to be an outlier and warrants further investigation. The low levels of TLR variation may be disadvantageous for the long-term viability of the SW and conservation
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235–250
Number of pages16
JournalAnimal Conservation
Issue number3
Early online date13 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017

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