Selection for recombination in small populations

Evolution. 2001 Oct;55(10):1921-31. doi: 10.1111/j.0014-3820.2001.tb01310.x.


The reasons that sex and recombination are so widespread remain elusive. One popular hypothesis is that sex and recombination promote adaptation to a changing environment. The strongest evidence that increased recombination may evolve because recombination promotes adaptation comes from artificially selected populations. Recombination rates have been found to increase as a correlated response to selection on traits unrelated to recombination in several artificial selection experiments and in a comparison of domesticated and nondomesticated mammals. There are, however, several alternative explanations for the increase in recombination in such populations, including two different evolutionary explanations. The first is that the form of selection is epistatic, generating linkage disequilibria among selected loci, which can indirectly favor modifier alleles that increase recombination. The second is that random genetic drift in selected populations tends to generate disequilibria such that beneficial alleles are often found in different individuals; modifier alleles that increase recombination can bring together such favorable alleles and thus may be found in individuals with greater fitness. In this paper, we compare the evolutionary forces acting on recombination in finite populations subject to strong selection. To our surprise, we found that drift accounted for the majority of selection for increased recombination observed in simulations of small to moderately large populations, suggesting that, unless selected populations are large, epistasis plays a secondary role in the evolution of recombination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Linkage Disequilibrium
  • Models, Genetic
  • Population Density
  • Recombination, Genetic*
  • Selection, Genetic*