Mutation accumulation may be a minor force in shaping life history traits
PLoS One, 7:4, e34146 (2012)
Is senescence the adaptive result of tradeoffs between younger and older ages or the nonadaptive burden of deleterious mutations that act at older ages? To shed new light on this unresolved question we combine adaptive and nonadaptive processes in a single model. Our model uses Penna's bit-strings to capture different age-specific mutational patterns. Each pattern represents a genotype and for each genotype we find the life history strategy that maximizes fitness. Genotypes compete with each other and are subject to selection and to new mutations over generations until equilibrium in gene-frequencies is reached. The mutation-selection equilibrium provides information about mutational load and the differential effects of mutations on a life history trait - the optimal age at maturity. We find that mutations accumulate only at ages with negligible impact on fitness and that mutation accumulation has very little effect on the optimal age at maturity. These results suggest that life histories are largely determined by adaptive processes. The non-adaptive process of mutation accumulation seems to be unimportant at evolutionarily relevant ages.