American Society of Naturalists

A membership society whose goal is to advance and to diffuse knowledge of organic evolution and other broad biological principles so as to enhance the conceptual unification of the biological sciences.

“Unpacking conditional neutrality: genomic signatures of selection on conditionally beneficial and conditionally deleterious mutations”

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Jonathan A. Mee and Samuel Yeaman (Special Feature on Maladaptation)


It is common to look for signatures of local adaptation in genomes by identifying loci with extreme levels of allele frequency divergence among populations. This approach to finding genes associated with local adaptation often assumes antagonistic pleiotropy, wherein alternative alleles are strongly favored in alternative environments. Conditional neutrality has been proposed as an alternative to antagonistic pleiotropy, but conditionally neutral polymorphisms are transient and it is unclear how much outlier signal would be maintained under different forms of conditional neutrality. Here, we use individual-based simulations and a simple analytical heuristic to show that a pattern that mimics local adaptation at the phenotypic level, where each genotype has the highest fitness in its home environment, can be produced by the accumulation of mutations that are neutral in their home environment and deleterious in non-local environments. Because conditionally deleterious mutations likely arise at a rate many times higher than conditionally beneficial mutations, they can have a significant cumulative effect on fitness even when individual effect sizes are small. We show that conditionally deleterious mutations driving non-local maladaptation may be undetectable by even the most powerful genome scans, as differences in allele frequency between populations are typically small. We also explore the evolutionary effects of conditionally-beneficial mutations and find that they can maintain significant signals of local adaptation, and they would be more readily detectable than conditionally deleterious mutations using conventional genome scan approaches. We discuss implications for interpreting outcomes of transplant experiments and genome scans that are used to study the genetic basis of local adaptation.