Many multicellular eukaryotes have reasonably high per-generation mutation rates. Consequently, most populations harbor an abundance of segregating deleterious alleles. These alleles, most of which are of small effect individually, collectively can reduce substantially the fitness of individuals relative to what it would be otherwise; this is mutation load. Mutation load can be lessened by any factor that causes more mutations to be removed per selective death, such as inbreeding, synergistic epistasis, population structure, or harsh environments. The ecological effects of load are not clear-cut because some conditions (such as selection early in life, sexual selection, reproductive compensation, and intraspecific competition) reduce the effects of load on population size and persistence, but other conditions (such as interspecific competition and load on resource use efficiency) can cause small amounts of load to have strong effects on the population, even extinction. We suggest a series of studies to improve our understanding of the effects of mutation load.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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