PURGING THE GENOME WITH SEXUAL SELECTION: REDUCING MUTATION LOAD THROUGH SELECTION ON MALES

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Abstract

Healthy males are likely to have higher mating success than unhealthy males because of differential expression of condition-dependent traits such as mate searching intensity, fighting ability, display vigor, and some types of exaggerated morphological characters. We therefore expect that most new mutations that are deleterious for overall fitness may also be deleterious for male mating success. From this perspective, sexual selection is not limited to influencing those genes directly involved in exaggerated morphological traits but rather affects most, if not all, genes in the genome. If true, sexual selection can be an important force acting to reduce the frequency of deleterious mutations and, as a result, mutation load. We review the literature and find various forms of indirect evidence that sexual selection helps to eliminate deleterious mutations. However, direct evidence is scant, and there are almost no data available to address a key issue: is selection in males stronger than selection in females? In addition, the total effect of sexual selection on mutation load is complicated by possible increases in mutation rate that may be attributable to sexual selection. Finally, sexual selection affects population fitness not only through mutation load but also through sexual conflict, making it difficult to empirically measure how sexual selection affects load. Several lines of enquiry are suggested to better fill large gaps in our understanding of sexual selection and its effect on genetic load.

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