Sex increases the probability of evolutionary rescue in the presence of a competitor

Nikola Petkovic, Nick Colegrave

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The explanation for the continued existence of sex, despite its many costs, remains one of the major challenges of evolutionary biology. Previous experimental studies have demonstrated that sex increases the rate of adaptation in novel environments relative to asexual reproduction. Whilst these studies have investigated the impact of sex on adaptation to stressful abiotic environments, the potential for biotic interactions to influence this advantage of sex has been largely ignored. Species rarely exist in isolation in natural conditions, so the impact of sex on adaptation to a stressful abiotic environment may be altered by the interactions between coexisting species. To investigate the interplay of sex and competition on adaptation to deteriorating conditions, we allowed populations of the unicellular alga (Chlamydomonas reinhardtii) to evolve in an environment to which they were initially poorly adapted. We manipulated both their mode of reproduction and the presence of a competitor, and monitored population size and proportion of evolutionary rescue events for each mode of reproduction. The results indicate that sex may be the beneficial strategy in the presence of the competitor. Sexual populations had highest probability of evolutionary rescue irrespective of the presence of the competitor. The overall advantage of sex was also manifested through higher level of adaptedness of survived sexual populations relative to asexual populations. Since competitive interactions are commonplace in nature, one of the explanations for the maintenance of sex by natural selection may be the increased rate of adaptation of sexual populations both in the presence and absence of competitors. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number11
Early online date20 Aug 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Aug 2019

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • chlamydomonas reinhardtii
  • sex
  • competition
  • evolutionary rescue


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