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Generation of variation and a modified mean fitness principle: Necessity is the mother of genetic invention.

Abstract

Generation of variation may be detrimental in well-adapted populations evolving under constant selection. In a constant environment, genetic modifiers that reduce the rate at which variation is generated by processes such as mutation and migration, succeed. However, departures from this reduction principle have been demonstrated. Here we analyze a general model of evolution under constant selection where the rate at which variation is generated depends on the individual. We find that if a modifier allele increases the rate at which individuals of below-average fitness generate variation, then it will increase in frequency and increase the population mean fitness. This principle applies to phenomena such as stress-induced mutagenesis and condition-dependent dispersal, and exemplifies "Necessity is the mother of genetic invention."

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