Population subdivision limits competition between individuals, which can have a profound effect on adaptation. Subdivided populations maintain more genetic diversity at any given time compared to well-mixed populations, and thus "explore" larger parts of the genotype space. At the same time, beneficial mutations take longer to spread in such populations, and thus subdivided populations do not "exploit" discovered mutations as efficiently as well-mixed populations. Whether subdivision inhibits or promotes adaptation in a given environment depends on the relative importance of exploration versus exploitation, which in turn depends on the structure of epistasis among beneficial mutations. Here we investigate the relative importance of exploration versus exploitation for adaptation by evolving 976 independent asexual populations of budding yeast with several degrees of geographic subdivision. We find that subdivision systematically inhibits adaptation: even the luckiest demes in subdivided populations on average fail to discover genotypes that are fitter than those discovered by well-mixed populations. Thus, exploitation of discovered mutations is more important for adaptation in our system than a thorough exploration of the mutational neighborhood, and increasing subdivision slows adaptation.
© 2012 The Author(s). Evolution © 2012 The Society for the Study of Evolution.