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Am Nat. 2015 Apr;185(4):E81-93. doi: 10.1086/680220.

Expansion load and the evolutionary dynamics of a species range.

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Institute of Ecology and Evolution, University of Berne, 3012 Berne, Switzerland; and Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland.


Expanding populations incur a mutation burden, the so-called expansion load. Using a mixture of individual-based simulations and analytical modeling, we study the expansion load process in models where population growth depends on the population's fitness (i.e., hard selection). We show that expansion load can severely slow down expansions and limit a species' range, even in the absence of environmental variation. We also study the effect of recombination on the dynamics of a species range and on the evolution of mean fitness on the wave front. If recombination is strong, mean fitness on front approaches an equilibrium value at which the effects of fixed mutations cancel each other out. The equilibrium rate at which new demes are colonized is similar to the rate at which beneficial mutations spread through the core. Without recombination, the dynamics is more complex, and beneficial mutations from the core of the range can invade the front of the expansion, which results in irregular and episodic expansion. Although the rate of adaptation is generally higher in recombining organisms, the mean fitness on the front may be larger in the absence of recombination because high-fitness individuals from the core have a higher chance to invade the front. Our findings have important consequences for the evolutionary dynamics of species ranges as well as on the role and the evolution of recombination during range expansions.

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