- Bioinformatics Research Centre, Aarhus Univ., Aarhus, Denmark
- Adaptation, Experimental Evolution, Genome Evolution, Genotype-Phenotype, Molecular Evolution, Other, Population Genetics / Genomics, Quantitative Genetics
The joint evolution of lifespan and self-fertilisation
Evolution of selfing & lifespan 2.0
Flowering plants display a staggering diversity of both mating systems and life histories, ranging from almost exclusively selfers to obligate outcrossers, very short-lived annual herbs to super long lived trees. One pervasive pattern that has attracted considerable attention is the tight correlation that is found between mating systems and lifespan . Until recently, theoretical explanations for these patterns have relied on static models exploring the consequences of several non-mutually exclusive important process: levels of inbreeding depression and ability to successfully were center stage. This make sense: successful colonization after long‐distance dispersal is far more likely to happen for self‐compatible than for self‐incompatible individuals in a sexually reproducing species. Furthermore, inbreeding depression (essentially a genetically driven phenomenon) and reproductive insurance are expected to shape the evolution of both mating system and lifespan.
But modelling jointly several processes and how their interplay to shape the evolution of a trait is challenging enough so models for the evolution of mating system tend invariably – for mathematical convenience and tractability – to fix lifespan .
However, comparative analysis of between species variations that map traits transitions among sister species in phylogenetic trees reveals a pervasive pattern: frequent transitions from a state outcrossing perennial to selfing annuals. This beg the question: is one transition triggering the other and if so, what comes first or are these transitions happening together? In this work, Lesaffre and Billiard use a very sophisticated machinery developed by Kirkpatrick et al.  and consider a general class of so-called modifiers models . They study jointly the evolution of life span and mating system. They do so by using models where different life stages are tracked with life stage having some (fixed for once) amount of inbreeding depression. Their paper is technically demanding, mixing analytics and computer simulations, and along the way generates several important findings that are expected to stimulate further empirical and theoretical studies: (1) pure selfing versus pure outcrossing is the expected stable evolutionary outcomes (despite observation that mixed mating systems can be regularly met in nature), (2) increasing life-span drastically reduces the scope for the evolution of selfing, conversely (3) transition to selfing will also select for shorter life span as a way to mitigate the cumulative effects of inbreeding depression on adult life stages.
As usual there is room for future work, in particular the authors’ model assumes fixed inbreeding depression in the different life stages and this highlights the need for models that explore how inbreeding depression, a pivotal quantity in these models, can itself be molded by both mating system and lifespan. A third-generation of models should be “soon” on the way!
 Grossenbacher D, Briscoe Runquist R, Goldberg EE, and Brandvain Y. (2015) Geographic range size is predicted by plant mating system. Ecology Letters 18, 706–713. doi: 10.1111/ele.12449
 Morgan MT, Schoen DJ, and Bataillon T. (1997) The evolution of self-fertilization in perennials. The American Naturalist 150, 618–638. doi: 10.1086/286085
 Kirkpatrick M, Johnson T, and Barton N. (2002) General models of multilocus evolution. Genetics 161, 1727–1750.
 Lesaffre, T, and Billiard S. (2019) The joint evolution of lifespan and self-fertilisation. bioRxiv, 420877, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Evol Biol. doi: 10.1101/420877