Switching environments, synchronous sex, and the evolution of mating types

Berríos-Caro, Ernesto; Galla, Tobias; Constable, George W. A.
Theoretical Population Biology 138, 28-42 (2021)

While facultative sex is common in sexually reproducing species, for reasons of tractability most mathematical models assume that such sex is asynchronous in the population. In this paper, we develop a model of switching environments to instead capture the effect of an entire population transitioning synchronously between sexual and asexual modes of reproduction. We use this model to investigate the evolution of the number of self-incompatible mating types in finite populations, which empirically can range from two to thousands. When environmental switching is fast, we recover the results of earlier studies that implicitly assumed populations were engaged in asynchronous sexual reproduction. However when the environment switches slowly, we see deviations from previous asynchronous theory, including a lower number of mating types at equilibrium and bimodality in the stationary distribution of mating types. We provide analytic approximations for both the fast and slow switching regimes, as well as a numerical scheme based on the Kolmogorov equations for the system to quickly evaluate the model dynamics at intermediate parameters. Our approach exploits properties of integer partitions in number theory. We also demonstrate how additional biological processes such as selective sweeps can be accounted for in this switching environment framework, showing that beneficial mutations can further erode mating type diversity in synchronous facultatively sexual populations.

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