An ecological role for assortative mating under infection?


Wildlife diseases are emerging at a higher rate than ever before meaning that understanding their potential impacts is essential, especially for those species and populations that may already be of conservation concern. The link between population genetic structure and the resistance of populations to disease is well understood: high genetic diversity allows populations to better cope with environmental changes, including the outbreak of novel diseases. Perhaps following this common wisdom, numerous empirical and theoretical studies have investigated the link between disease and disassortative mating patterns, which can increase genetic diversity. Few however have looked at the possible link between disease and the establishment of assortative mating patterns. Given that assortative mating can reduce genetic variation within a population thus reducing the adaptive potential and long-term viability of populations, we suggest that this link deserves greater attention, particularly in those species already threatened by a lack of genetic diversity. Here, we summarise the potential broad scale genetic implications of assortative mating patterns and outline how infection by pathogens or parasites might bring them about. We include a review of the empirical literature pertaining to disease-induced assortative mating. We also suggest future directions and methodological improvements that could advance our understanding of how the link between disease and mating patterns influences genetic variation and long-term population viability.