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The double edged sword: The demographic consequences of the evolution of self-fertilization

Abstract : Phylogenies indicate that the transition from outcrossing to selfing is frequent, with selfing populations being more prone to extinction. The rates of transition to selfing and extinction, acting on different timescales, could explain the observed distributions of extant selfing species among taxa. However, phylogenetic and theoretical studies consider these mechanisms independently, i.e. transitions do not cause extinction. Here, we theoretically explore the demographic consequences of the evolution of self-fertilization. Deleterious mutations and mutations modifying the selfing rate are recurrently introduced and the number of offspring depends on individual fitness, allowing for a demographic feedback. We show that mutational meltdowns can be triggered in populations evolving near strict selfing. Populations having survived the demographic crash are more stable than ancestral outcrossing populations once deleterious mutations are purged. The relatively rapid time-scales in which extinctions occur indicate that during evolutionary transitions the accumulation of deleterious mutations may not be the cause of extinctions observed on longer time scales, which in turn could lead to the underestimation of transition rates from outcrossing to selfing.
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Diala Abu Awad, Sylvain Billiard. The double edged sword: The demographic consequences of the evolution of self-fertilization. Evolution, Wiley, 2017, 71 (5), pp.1178-1190. ⟨10.1111/evo.13222⟩. ⟨hal-01525672⟩

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