Parasites and deleterious mutations: interactions influencing the evolutionary maintenance of sex

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The restrictive assumptions associated with purely genetic and purely ecological mechanisms suggest that neither of the two forces, in isolation, can offer a general explanation for the evolutionary maintenance of sex. Consequently, attention has turned to pluralistic models (i.e. models that apply both ecological and genetic mechanisms). Existing research has shown that combining mutation accumulation and parasitism allows restrictive assumptions about genetic and parasite parameter values to be relaxed while still predicting the maintenance of sex. However, several empirical studies have shown that deleterious mutations and parasitism can reduce fitness to a greater extent than would be expected if the two acted independently. We show how interactions between these genetic and ecological forces can completely reverse predictions about the evolution of reproductive modes. Moreover, we demonstrate that synergistic interactions between infection and deleterious mutations can render sex evolutionarily stable even when there is antagonistic epistasis among deleterious mutations, thereby widening the conditions for the evolutionary maintenance of sex.

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