Clonal erosion and genetic drift in cyclical parthenogens – the interplay between neutral and selective processes

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The occurrence of alternating phases of clonal and sexual reproduction may strongly impact the interplay between neutral and selective genetic variation in populations. Using a physiologically structured model of the life history of Daphnia, we investigated to what extent clonal erosion associated with selection during the clonal phase affects the genetic structure as observed by neutral markers. Incorporating conservative levels of quantitative genetic variation at 11 physiological and life history traits induces strong clonal erosion, reducing clonal diversity (CD) near the end of the simulations (1000 days) to a level between 1 and 5, even in habitats with high initial CD (108 clones). This strong clonal erosion caused by selection can result in reduced genetic diversity, significant excess of heterozygotes and significant genetic differentiation between populations as observed by neutral markers. Our results indicate that, especially in relatively small habitats, clonal selection may strongly impact the genetic structure and may contribute to the often observed high level of neutral genetic differentiation among natural populations of cyclical parthenogens.

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