Fitness decline under osmotic stress in Caenorhabditis elegans populations subjected to spontaneous mutation accumulation at varying population sizes Academic Article uri icon


  • The consequences of mutations for population fitness depends on their individual selection coefficients and the effective population size. An earlier study of Caenorhabditis elegans spontaneous mutation accumulation lines evolved for 409 generations at three population sizes found that Ne   = 1 populations declined significantly in fitness whereas the fitness of larger populations (Ne   = 5, 50) was indistinguishable from the ancestral control under benign conditions. To test if larger MA populations harbor a load of cryptic deleterious mutations that are obscured under benign laboratory conditions, we measured fitness under osmotic stress via exposure to hypersaline conditions. The fitness of Ne   = 1 lines exhibited a further decline under osmotic stress compared to benign conditions. However, the fitness of larger populations remained indistinguishable from that of the ancestral control. The average effects of deleterious mutations in Ne   = 1 lines were estimated to be 22% for productivity and 14% for survivorship, exceeding values previously detected under benign conditions. Our results suggest that fitness decline is due to large effect mutations that are rapidly removed via selection even in small populations, with implications for conservation practices. Genetic stochasticity may not be as potent and immediate a threat to the persistence of small populations as other demographic and environmental stochastic factors.

altmetric score

  • 5

author list (cited authors)

  • Katju, V., Packard, L. B., & Keightley, P. D.

citation count

  • 13

publication date

  • April 2018