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.

Symposium: “Evolution of dispersal can rescue populations from expansion load”

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Stephan Peischl and Kimberly J. Gilbert (Feb 2020)

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Understanding the causes and consequences of range expansions or range shifts has a long history in evolutionary biology. Recent theoretical, experimental, and empirical work has identified two particularly interesting phenomena in the context of species range expansions: (i) gene surfing and the relaxation of natural selection, and (ii) spatial sorting. The former can lead to an accumulation of deleterious mutations at range edges, causing an expansion load and slowing down expansion. The latter can create gradients in dispersal-related traits along the expansion axis and cause an acceleration of expansion. We present a theoretical framework that treats spatial sorting and gene surfing as spatial versions of natural selection and genetic drift, respectively. This model allows us to analytically study how gene surfing and spatial sorting interact and derive the probability of fixation of pleiotropic mutations at the expansion front. We use our results to predict the co-evolution of mean fitness and dispersal rates, taking into account the effects of random genetic drift, natural selection, and spatial sorting, as well as correlations between fitness- and dispersal-related traits. We identify a “rescue effect” of spatial sorting, where the evolution of higher dispersal rates at the leading edge rescues the population from incurring expansion load.