What role does heritability play in transgenerational phenotypic responses to captivity? Implications for managing captive populations
Animals maintained in captivity exhibit rapid changes in phenotypic traits, which may be maladaptive for natural environments. The phenotype can shift away from the wild phenotype via transgenerational effects, with the environment experienced by parents influencing the phenotype and fitness of offspring. There is emerging evidence that controlling transgenerational effects could help mitigate the effects of captivity, improving the success of captively bred animals post release. However, controlling transgenerational effects requires knowledge of the mechanisms driving transgenerational changes. To better understand the genetic mechanisms that contribute to transgenerational effects in captivity we investigated the heritability of behavioral phenotypes using mid parent- and single parent-offspring regressions in a population of captive-reared house mouse (Mus musculus) that we had previously shown exhibit transgenerational changes in boldness and activity behavioral types. Slopes for boldness and activity were all positive, indicating a low to moderate degree of heritability. Though, none of the heritability estimates were statistically significant due to the large surrounding errors. However, the large error surrounding the heritability estimates may also indicate that there is variability in heritability between behavioral traits within the boldness and activity behavioral types. The implication of this finding is that the potential for heritable genetic changes in captivity varies considerably between traits. We conclude that continued investigation of the potential for traits to evolve in captivity is needed to better inform captive breeding and reintroduction programs.