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Mutational Meltdowns in Sexual Populations

Michael Lynch, John Conery and Reinhard Burger
Evolution
Vol. 49, No. 6 (Dec., 1995), pp. 1067-1080
DOI: 10.2307/2410432
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2410432
Page Count: 14
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Mutational Meltdowns in Sexual Populations
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Abstract

Although it is widely acknowledged that the gradual accumulation of mildly deleterious mutations is an important source of extinction for asexual populations, it is generally assumed that this process is of little relevance to sexual species. Here we present results, based on computer simulations and supported by analytical approximations, that indicate that mutation accumulation in small, random-mating monoecious populations can lead to mean extinction times less than a few hundred to a few thousand generations. Unlike the situation in obligate asexuals in which the mean time to extinction (t̄e) increases more slowly than linearly with the population carrying capacity (K), t̄e increases approximately exponentially with K in outcrossing sexual populations. The mean time to extinction for obligately selfing populations is shown to be equivalent to that for asexual populations of the same size, but with half the mutation rate and twice the mutational effect; this suggests that obligate selfing, like obligate asexuality, is inviable as a long-term reproductive strategy. Under all mating systems, the mean time to extinction increases relatively slowly with the logarithm of fecundity, and mutations with intermediate effects (similar to those observed empirically) cause the greatest risk of extinction. Because our analyses ignore sources of demographic and environmental stochasticity, which have synergistic effects that exacerbate the accumulation of deleterious mutations, our results should yield liberal upper bounds to the mean time to extinction caused by mutational degradation. Thus, deleterious mutation accumulation cannot be ruled out generally as a significant source of extinction vulnerability in small sexual populations or as a selective force influencing mating-system evolution.

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