Sex in random environments

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Based on the theory of natural selection it is not obvious why sexual reproduction should evolve in Mendelian populations. Sexually reproducing organisms incur a "cost of meiosis": an asexual lineage would grow at twice the rate of a comparable sexual lineage. A plausible and popular explanation for the widespread occurrence of sexual reproduction is that it adapts a lineage to temporal uncertainty in the environment. Computer simulation of a model introduced and partially analyzed in a companion paper (Hines & Moore,1981) suggests that under some of the hypothetical conditions, sexuality is advantageous, but the conditions are very restricted if only one or a few loci are selected. In the companion paper, to make analytical progress, it was necessary to assume small environmental effects or that the fitnesses of the homozygotes at each locus were identical in each generation, although fluctuating between generations. No such assumptions were made here. In addition the effect of an absorbing barrier was studied in the simulations. The computer model envisages from 1-4 loci, each with two alleles, selected independently. In each generation, each locus experiences one of three selection regimes chosen at random; each genotype is favored by one of the three selection regimes. The fitness of a multi-locus genotype is the product of the fitnesses of the independent loci. The sexual species produce genetically varied offspring according to Mendel's laws; the recombination frequency between all loci is 0-5. Members of the asexual species produce offspring that are genetic replicates of themselves. It is important to note that the model represents segregation and independent assortment of genes but not linkage disequilibrium. Computer simulation results were consistent with analytical results, suggesting that inferences can be extrapolated from the analysis without danger of serious error. Both the analysis and simulations reveal a dilemma for the hypothesis that sex is an adaptation to temporal uncertainty; viz., the conditions that are most favorable for sexually are somewhat antithetical (but not prohibitive) to the maintenance of genetic polymorphism in the sexual species whereas sex is useless in a monomorphic population. The dilemma is particularly apparent when only one or a few loci are selected; however, as the number of selected loci increases, the disadvantage in sexuality diminishes. Thus, environmental uncertainty may explain the adaptive significance of sex provided many loci are selected in the prescribed manner. ?? 1981.




Moore, W. S., Gordon, W., & Hines, S. (1981). Sex in random environments. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 92(3), 301–316.

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