Drift-Induced Selection Between Male and Female Heterogamety

Carl Veller, Pavitra Muralidhar, George W A Constable, Martin A. Nowak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (SciVal)


Evolutionary transitions between male and female heterogamety are common in both vertebrates and invertebrates. Theoretical studies of these transitions have found that, when all genotypes are equally fit, continuous paths of intermediate equilibria link the two sex chromosome systems. This observation has led to a belief that neutral evolution along these paths can drive transitions, and that arbitrarily small fitness differences among sex chromosome genotypes can determine the system to which evolution leads. Here, we study stochastic evolutionary dynamics along these equilibrium paths. We find non-neutrality, both in transitions retaining the ancestral pair of sex chromosomes, and in those creating a new pair. In fact, substitution rates are biased in favor of dominant sex determining chromosomes, which fix with higher probabilities than mutations of no effect. Using diffusion approximations, we show that this non-neutrality is a result of “drift-induced selection” operating at every point along the equilibrium paths: stochastic jumps off the paths return with, on average, a directional bias in favor of the dominant segregating sex chromosome. Our results offer a novel explanation for the observed preponderance of dominant sex determining genes, and hint that drift-induced selection may be a common force in standard population genetic systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)711-727
Number of pages17
Issue number2
Early online date15 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2017




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