Soft selection reduces loss of heterozygosity in asexual reproduction

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The adaptive value of sexual reproduction is still debated in evolutionary theory. It has been proposed that the advantage of sexual reproduction over asexual reproduction is to promote genetic diversity, to prevent the accumulation of harmful mutations or to preserve heterozygosity. Since these hypothetical advantages depend on the type of asexual reproduction, understanding how selection affects the taxonomic distribution of each type could help us discriminate between existing hypotheses. Here, I argue that soft selection, competition among embryos or offspring in selection arenas prior to the hard selection of the adult phase, reduces loss of heterozygosity in certain types of asexual reproduction. Since loss of heterozygosity leads to the unmasking of recessive deleterious mutations in the progeny of asexual individuals, soft selection facilitates the evolution of these types of asexual reproduction. Using a population genetics model, I calculate how loss of heterozygosity affects fitness for different types of apomixis and automixis, and I show that soft selection significantly reduces loss of heterozygosity, hence increases fitness, in apomixis with suppression of the first meiotic division and in automixis with central fusion, the most common types of asexual reproduction. Therefore, if sexual reproduction evolved to preserve heterozygosity, soft selection should be associated with these types of asexual reproduction. I discuss the evidence for this prediction and how this and other observations on the distribution of different types of asexual reproduction in nature is consistent with the heterozygosity hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1313-1327
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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