The role of recombination in evolutionary rescue

The role of recombination in evolutionary rescue

Hildegard Uecker, Joachim Hermisson

How likely is it that a population escapes extinction through adaptive evolution? The answer to this question is of great relevance in conservation biology, where we aim at species’ rescue and the maintenance of biodiversity, and in agriculture and epidemiology, where we seek to hamper the emergence of pesticide or drug resistance. By reshuffling the genome, recombination has two antagonistic effects on the probability of evolutionary rescue: it generates and it breaks up favorable gene combinations. Which of the two effects prevails, depends on the fitness effects of mutations and on the impact of stochasticity on the allele frequencies. In this paper, we analyze a mathematical model for rescue after a sudden environmental change when adaptation is contingent on mutations at two loci. The analysis reveals a complex nonlinear dependence of population survival on recombination. We moreover find that, counterintuitively, a fast eradication of the wildtype can promote rescue in the presence of recombination. The model also shows that two-step rescue is not unlikely to happen and can even be more likely than single-step rescue (where adaptation relies on a single mutation), depending on the circumstances.


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