On the accumulation of deleterious mutations during range expansions



We investigate the effect of spatial range expansions on the evolution of fitness when beneficial and deleterious mutations cosegregate. We perform individual-based simulations of 1D and 2D range expansions and complement them with analytical approximations for the evolution of mean fitness at the edge of the expansion. We find that deleterious mutations accumulate steadily on the wave front during range expansions, thus creating an expansion load. Reduced fitness due to the expansion load is not restricted to the wave front, but occurs over a large proportion of newly colonized habitats. The expansion load can persist and represent a major fraction of the total mutation load for thousands of generations after the expansion. The phenomenon of expansion load may explain growing evidence that populations that have recently expanded, including humans, show an excess of deleterious mutations. To test the predictions of our model, we analyse functional genetic diversity in humans and find patterns that are consistent with our model.