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Theor Popul Biol. 2007 Dec;72(4):560-75. Epub 2007 Aug 31.

The evolution of bet-hedging adaptations to rare scenarios.

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Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Nine Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA.


When faced with a variable environment, organisms may switch between different strategies according to some probabilistic rule. In an infinite population, evolution is expected to favor the rule that maximizes geometric mean fitness. If some environments are encountered only rarely, selection may not be strong enough for optimal switching probabilities to evolve. Here we calculate the evolution of switching probabilities in a finite population by analyzing fixation probabilities of alleles specifying switching rules. We calculate the conditions required for the evolution of phenotypic switching as a form of bet-hedging as a function of the population size N, the rate theta at which a rare environment is encountered, and the selective advantage s associated with switching in the rare environment. We consider a simplified model in which environmental switching and phenotypic switching are one-way processes, and mutation is symmetric and rare with respect to the timescale of fixation events. In this case, the approximate requirements for bet-hedging to be favored by a ratio of at least R are that sN>log(R) and thetaN>square root R .

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