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Mutation Load and the Survival of Small Populations
Michael Lynch and Wilfried Gabriel
Vol. 44, No. 7 (Nov., 1990), pp. 1725-1737
Published by: Society for the Study of Evolution
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2409502
Page Count: 13
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Previous attempts to model the joint action of selection and mutation in finite populations have treated population size as being independent of the mutation load. However, the accumulation of deleterious mutations is expected to cause a gradual reduction in population size. Consequently, in small populations random genetic drift will progressively overpower selection making it easier to fix future mutations. This synergistic interaction, which we refer to as a mutational melt-down, ultimately leads to population extinction. For many conditions, the coefficient of variation of extinction time is less than 0.1, and for species that reproduce by binary fission, the expected extinction time is quite insensitive to population carrying capacity. These results are consistent with observations that many cultures of ciliated protozoans and vertebrate fibroblasts have characteristic extinction times. The model also predicts that clonal lineages are unlikely to survive more than 104 to 105 generations, which is consistent with existing data on parthenogenetic animals. Contrary to the usual view that Muller's ratchet does more damage when selection is weak, we show that the mean extinction time declines as mutations become more deleterious. Although very small sexual populations, such as self-fertilized lines, are subject to mutational meltdowns, recombination effectively eliminates the process when the effective population size exceeds a dozen or so. The concept of the effective mutation load is developed, and several procedures for estimating it are described. It is shown that this load can be reduced substantially when mutational effects are highly variable.
Evolution © 1990 Society for the Study of Evolution