On the importance of balancing selection in plants

Authors

  • Lynda F. Delph,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA
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    • These authors contributed equally to this work.
  • John K. Kelly

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, USA
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    • These authors contributed equally to this work.

Abstract

Summary

Balancing selection refers to a variety of selective regimes that maintain advantageous genetic diversity within populations. We review the history of the ideas regarding the types of selection that maintain such polymorphism in flowering plants, notably heterozygote advantage, negative frequency-dependent selection, and spatial heterogeneity. One shared feature of these mechanisms is that whether an allele is beneficial or detrimental is conditional on its frequency in the population. We highlight examples of balancing selection on a variety of discrete traits. These include the well-referenced case of self-incompatibility and recent evidence from species with nuclear-cytoplasmic gynodioecy, both of which exhibit trans-specific polymorphism, a hallmark of balancing selection. We also discuss and give examples of how spatial heterogeneity in particular, which is often thought unlikely to allow protected polymorphism, can maintain genetic variation in plants (which are rooted in place) as a result of microhabitat selection. Lastly, we discuss limitations of the protected polymorphism concept for quantitative traits, where selection can inflate the genetic variance without maintaining specific alleles indefinitely. We conclude that while discrete-morph variation provides the most unambiguous cases of protected polymorphism, they represent only a fraction of the balancing selection at work in plants.

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