The spatial Muller's ratchet: surfing of deleterious mutations during range expansion


Etheridge, A
Foutel-Rodier, F

Publication Date: 

17 August 2020


Theoretical Population Biology

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During a range expansion, deleterious mutations can “surf” on the colonization front. The resultant decrease in fitness is known as expansion load. An Allee effect is known to reduce the loss of genetic diversity of expanding populations, by changing the nature of the expansion from “pulled” to “pushed”. We study the impact of an Allee effect on the formation of an expansion load with a new model, in which individuals have the genetic structure of a Muller’s ratchet. A key feature of Muller’s ratchet is that the population fatally accumulates deleterious mutations due to the stochastic loss of the fittest individuals, an event called a click of the ratchet. We observe fast clicks of the ratchet at the colonization front owing to small population size, followed by a slow fitness recovery due to migration of fit individuals from the bulk of the population, leading to a transient expansion load. For large population size, we are able to derive quantitative features of the expansion wave, such as the wave speed and the frequency of individuals carrying a given number of mutations. Using simulations, we show that the presence of an Allee effect reduces the rate at which clicks occur at the front, and thus reduces the expansion load.

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Publication Type: 

Journal Article