• Beneficial mutations;
  • mutation accumulation lines;
  • mutation effect;
  • mutation rate

Mutations are the ultimate source of genetic diversity and their contributions to evolutionary process depend critically on their rate and their effects on traits, notably fitness. Mutation rate and mutation effect can be measured simultaneously through the use of mutation accumulation lines, and previous mutation accumulation studies measuring these parameters have been performed in laboratory conditions. However, estimation of mutation parameters for fitness in wild populations requires assays in environments where mutations are exposed to natural selection and natural environmental variation. Here we quantify mutation parameters in both the wild and greenhouse environments using 100 25th generation Arabidopsis thaliana mutation accumulation lines. We found significantly greater mutational variance and a higher mutation rate for fitness under field conditions relative to greenhouse conditions. However, our field estimates were low when scaled to natural environmental variation. Many of the mutation accumulation lines have increased fitness, counter to the expectation that nearly all mutations decrease fitness. A high mutation rate and a low mutational contribution to phenotypic variation may explain observed levels of natural genetic variation. Our findings indicate that mutation parameters are not fixed, but are variables whose values may reflect the specific environment in which mutations are tested.