Epistasis and the evolution of selfing

Sylvain Gandon based on reviews by Nick Barton and 1 anonymous reviewer

A recommendation of:
Diala Abu Awad and Denis Roze. Epistasis, inbreeding depression and the evolution of self-fertilization (2020), bioRxiv, 809814, ver. 4 recommended and peer-reviewed by Peer Community In Evolutionary Biology. 10.1101/809814
Submitted: 18 October 2019, Recommended: 08 February 2020
Cite this recommendation as:
Sylvain Gandon (2020) Epistasis and the evolution of selfing. Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology, 100093. 10.24072/pci.evolbiol.100093

The evolution of selfing results from a balance between multiple evolutionary forces. Selfing provides an "automatic advantage" due to the higher efficiency of selfers to transmit their genes via selfed and outcrossed offspring. Selfed offspring, however, may suffer from inbreeding depression. In principle the ultimate evolutionary outcome is easy to predict from the relative magnitude of these two evolutionary forces [1,2]. Yet, several studies explicitly taking into account the genetic architecture of inbreeding depression noted that these predictions are often too restrictive because selfing can evolve in a broader range of conditions [3,4].
The present work by Abu Awad and Roze [5] provides an analytic understanding of these results. Abu Awad and Roze analyse the evolution of selfing in a multilocus model where some loci are coding for selfing while others are under direct selection. The evolution of selfing depends on (i) the classical benefit of selfing (automatic advantage), (ii) the cost of selfing due to inbreeding depression, (iii) the association between the loci coding for selfing and the loci under direct selection (likely to be positive because selfing is expected to be found in better purged genetic backgrounds) and (iv) the association between the loci coding for selfing and the linkage between loci under selection (this final term depends on the magnitude and the type of epistasis). Because these last two terms depend on genetic associations they are expected to play in when selection is strong and recombination is small. These last two terms explain why selfing is evolving under a range of conditions which is broader than predicted by earlier theoretical models. The match between the approximations for the different terms acting on the evolution of selfing and individual based simulations (for different fitness landscapes) is very convincing. In particular, this analysis also yields new results on the effect of different types of epistasis on inbreeding depression.
Another remarkable and important feature of this work is its readability. The analysis of multilocus models rely on several steps and approximations that often result in overwhelmingly complex papers. Abu Awad and Roze’s paper [5] is dense but it provides a very clear and comprehensive presentation of the interplay between multiple evolutionary forces acting on the evolution of selfing.


[1] Holsinger, K. E., Feldman, M. W., and Christiansen, F. B. (1984). The evolution of self-fertilization in plants: a population genetic model. The American Naturalist, 124(3), 446-453. doi: 10.1086/284287
[2] Lande, R., and Schemske, D. W. (1985). The evolution of self‐fertilization and inbreeding depression in plants. I. Genetic models. Evolution, 39(1), 24-40. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.1985.tb04077.x
[3] Charlesworth, D., Morgan, M. T., and Charlesworth, B. (1990). Inbreeding depression, genetic load, and the evolution of outcrossing rates in a multilocus system with no linkage. Evolution, 44(6), 1469-1489. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.1990.tb03839.x
[4] Uyenoyama, M. K., and Waller, D. M. (1991). Coevolution of self-fertilization and inbreeding depression I. Mutation-selection balance at one and two loci. Theoretical population biology, 40(1), 14-46. doi: 10.1016/0040-5809(91)90045-H
[5] Abu Awad, D. and Roze, D. (2020). Epistasis, inbreeding depression and the evolution of self-fertilization. bioRxiv, 809814, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Evol Biol. doi: 10.1101/809814