- Lattorff Lab (Bee Health @ Environmental Health), International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), Nairobi, Kenya
- Adaptation, Behavior & Social Evolution, Evolutionary Applications, Evolutionary Ecology, Experimental Evolution, Genetic conflicts, Genome Evolution, Life History, Molecular Evolution, Phenotypic Plasticity, Population Genetics / Genomics, Quantitative Genetics, Reproduction and Sex
Relaxation of purifying selection suggests low effective population size in eusocial Hymenoptera and solitary pollinating bees
Multi-gene and lineage comparative assessment of the strength of selection in Hymenoptera
Genetic variation is the raw material for selection to act upon and the amount of genetic variation present within a population is a pivotal determinant of a population’s evolutionary potential. A large effective population size, i.e., the ideal number of individuals experiencing the same amount of genetic drift and inbreeding as an actual population, Ne (Wright 1931, Crow 1954), thus increases the probability of long-term survival of a population. However, natural populations, as opposed to theoretical ones, rarely adhere to the requirements of an ideal panmictic population (Sjödin et al. 2005). A range of circumstances can reduce Ne, including the structuring of populations (through space and time, as well as age and developmental stages) and inbreeding (Charlesworth 2009). In mammals, species with a larger body mass (as a proxy for lower Ne) were found to have a higher rate of nonsynonymous nucleotide substitutions (that alter the amino acid sequence of a protein), as well as radical amino acid substitutions (altering the physicochemical properties of a protein) (Popadin et al. 2007). In general, low effective population sizes increase the chance of mutation accumulation and drift, while reducing the strength of selection (Sjödin et al. 2005).
In this paper, Weyna and Romiguier (2021) set out to test if parasitism, body size, geographic range, and/or eusociality affect the strength of selection in Hymenoptera. Hymenoptera include the bees, wasps and ants and is an extraordinarily diverse order within the insects. It was recently estimated that Hymenoptera is the most speciose order of the animal kingdom (Forbes et al. 2018). Hymenoptera are further characterized by an impressive radiation of parasitic species, mainly parasitoids, that feed in or on a single host individual to complete their own development (Godfray 1994). All hymenopterans share the same sex determination system: haplo-diploidy, where unfertilized eggs are haploid males and fertilized eggs are diploid females. Compared to other animals, Hymenoptera further contain an impressive number of clades that evolved eusociality (Rehan and Toth 2015), in which societies show a clear division of labor for reproduction (i.e., castes) and cooperative brood care. Hymenopterans thus represent a diverse and interesting group of insects to investigate potential factors affecting strength of selection and Ne.
Using a previously published phylogenomic dataset containing 3256 genes and 169 hymenopteran species (Peters et al. 2017), Weyna and Romiguier (2021) estimated mean genomic dN/dS ratios (nonsynonymous to synonymous substitution rates) for each species and compared these values between parasitic and non-parasitic species, eusocial and solitary species, and in relation to body size, parasitoid-specific traits and geographic range, thought to affect the effective population size and strength of selection. The use of a large number of species, as well as several distinct traits is a clear asset of this study. The authors found no effect of body size, geographic range or parasitism (including a range of parasitoid-specific traits). There was an effect, however, of eusociality where dN/dS increased in three out of four eusocial lineages. Future studies including more independent evolutionary transitions to eusociality can lend further support that eusocial species indeed reduces the efficiency of selection. The most intriguing result was that for solitary and social bees, with high dN/dS ratios and a strong signature of relaxed selection (i.e., the elimination or reduction of a source of selection (Lahti et al. 2009). The authors suggest that the pollen-collecting behaviors of these species can constrain Ne, as pollen availability varies at both a spatial and temporal scale, requiring a large investment in foraging that may in turn limit reproductive output. It would be interesting to see if other pollen feeders, such as certain beetles, flies, butterflies and moths, as well as mites and spiders, experience relaxed selection as a consequence of the trade-off between energy investment in pollen foraging versus fecundity.
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