Multicellular Eukaryotes use a broad spectrum of sexual reproduction strategies, ranging from simultaneous hermaphroditism to complete dioecy (separate sexes). The evolutionary pathway from hermaphroditism to dioecy involves the spread of sterility alleles that eliminate female or male reproductive functions, producing unisexual individuals. Classical theory predicts that evolutionary transitions to dioecy are feasible when female and male sex functions genetically trade off with one another (allocation to sex functions is sexually antagonistic) and rates of self-fertilization and inbreeding depression are high within the ancestral hermaphrodite population. We show that genetic linkage between sterility alleles and loci under sexually antagonistic selection significantly alters these classical predictions. We identify three specific consequences of linkage for the evolution of dimorphic sexual systems. First, linkage broadens conditions for the invasion of unisexual sterility alleles, facilitating transitions to sexual systems that are intermediate between hermaphroditism and dioecy (androdioecy and gynodioecy). Second, linkage elevates the equilibrium frequencies of unisexual individuals within androdioecious and gynodioecious populations, which promotes subsequent transitions to full dioecy. Third, linkage dampens the role of inbreeding during transitions to androdioecy and gynodioecy, making these transitions feasible in outbred populations. We discuss implications of these results for the evolution of dimorphic reproductive systems and sex chromosomes.
Keywords: dioecy; intralocus sexual conflict; linkage disequilibrium; sex chromosome evolution; sexual dimorphism; sexual system.