Genetic loads under fitness-dependent mutation rates


A. F. Agrawal, Department of Biology, Indiana University, 1001 E. 3rd Street, Bloomington, IN 47405-3700, USA. Tel.: 1-812-855-8250; fax: 1-812-855-6705; e-mail:


Abstract Although much theory depends on the genome-wide rate of deleterious mutations, good estimates of the mutation rate are scarce and remain controversial. Furthermore, mutation rate may not be constant, and a recent study suggests that mutation rates are higher in mildly stressful environments. If mutation rate is a function of condition, then individuals carrying more mutations will tend to be in worse condition and therefore produce more mutations. Here I examine the mean fitnesses of sexual and asexual populations evolving under such condition-dependent mutation rates. The equilibrium mean fitness of a sexual population depends on the shape of the curve relating fitness to mutation rate. If mutation rate declines synergistically with increasing condition the mean fitness will be much lower than if mutation rate declines at a diminishing rate. In contrast, asexual populations are less affected by condition-dependent mutation rates. The equilibrium mean fitness of an asexual population only depends on the mutation rate of the individuals in the least loaded class. Because such individuals have high fitness and therefore a low mutation rate, asexual populations experience less genetic load than sexual populations, thus increasing the twofold cost of sex.