Heritability of interpack aggression in a wild pedigreed population of North American grey wolves

Bridgett M. vonHoldt, Alexandra L. DeCandia, Elizabeth Heppenheimer, Ilana Janowitz-Koch, Ruoyao Shi, Hua Zhou, Christopher A. German, Kristin E. Brzeski, Kira A. Cassidy, Daniel R. Stahler, Janet S. Sinsheimer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Aggression is a quantitative trait deeply entwined with individual fitness. Mapping the genomic architecture underlying such traits is complicated by complex inheritance patterns, social structure, pedigree information and gene pleiotropy. Here, we leveraged the pedigree of a reintroduced population of grey wolves (Canis lupus) in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA, to examine the heritability of and the genetic variation associated with aggression. Since their reintroduction, many ecological and behavioural aspects have been documented, providing unmatched records of aggressive behaviour across multiple generations of a wild population of wolves. Using a linear mixed model, a robust genetic relationship matrix, 12,288 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and 111 wolves, we estimated the SNP-based heritability of aggression to be 37% and an additional 14% of the phenotypic variation explained by shared environmental exposures. We identified 598 SNP genotypes from 425 grey wolves to resolve a consensus pedigree that was included in a heritability analysis of 141 individuals with SNP genotype, metadata and aggression data. The pedigree-based heritability estimate for aggression is 14%, and an additional 16% of the phenotypic variation was explained by shared environmental exposures. We find strong effects of breeding status and relative pack size on aggression. Through an integrative approach, these results provide a framework for understanding the genetic architecture of a complex trait that influences individual fitness, with linkages to reproduction, in a social carnivore. Along with a few other studies, we show here the incredible utility of a pedigreed natural population for dissecting a complex, fitness-related behavioural trait.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1764-1775
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • RAD-seq
  • aggression
  • behaviour
  • canid
  • heritability


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