Genome-wide association and genome partitioning reveal novel genomic regions underlying variation in gastrointestinal nematode burden in a wild bird

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Identifying the genetic architecture underlying complex phenotypes is a notoriously difficult problem that often impedes progress in understanding adaptive eco-evolutionary processes in natural populations. Host–parasite interactions are fundamentally important drivers of evolutionary processes, but a lack of understanding of the genes involved in the host's response to chronic parasite insult makes it particularly difficult to understand the mechanisms of host life history trade-offs and the adaptive dynamics involved. Here, we examine the genetic basis of gastrointestinal nematode (Trichostrongylus tenuis) burden in 695 red grouse (Lagopus lagopus scotica) individuals genotyped at 384 genome-wide SNPs. We first use genome-wide association to identify individual SNPs associated with nematode burden. We then partition genome-wide heritability to identify chromosomes with greater heritability than expected from gene content, due to harbouring a multitude of additive SNPs with individually undetectable effects. We identified five SNPs on five chromosomes that accounted for differences of up to 556 worms per bird, but together explained at best 4.9% of the phenotypic variance. These SNPs were closely linked to genes representing a range of physiological processes including the immune system, protein degradation and energy metabolism. Genome partitioning indicated genome-wide heritability of up to 29% and three chromosomes with excess heritability of up to 4.3% (total 8.9%). These results implicate SNPs and novel genomic regions underlying nematode burden in this system and suggest that this phenotype is somewhere between being based on few large-effect genes (oligogenic) and based on a large number of genes with small individual but large combined effects (polygenic).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4175-4192
Number of pages18
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number16
Early online date6 Aug 2015
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2015

Bibliographical note

This study was funded by a BBSRC studentship (MA Wenzel) and NERC grants NE/H00775X/1 and NE/D000602/1 (SB Piertney). The authors are grateful to Fiona Leckie, Andrew MacColl, Jesús Martínez-Padilla, François Mougeot, Steve Redpath, Pablo Vergara† and Lucy M.I. Webster for samples; Keliya Bai, Daisy Brickhill, Edward Graham, Alyson Little, Daniel Mifsud, Lizzie Molyneux and Mario Röder for fieldwork assistance; Gillian Murray-Dickson and Laura Watt for laboratory assistance; Heather Ritchie for helpful comments on manuscript drafts; and all estate owners, factors and keepers for access to field sites, most particularly Stuart Young and Derek Calder (Edinglassie), Simon Blackett, Jim Davidson and Liam Donald (Invercauld and Glas Choille), Richard Cooke and Fred Taylor† (Invermark) and T. Helps (Catterick).


  • GWAS
  • genome-wide association
  • genome partitioning
  • host-parasite interactions
  • life history trade-offs
  • missing heritability


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