Persistence of an extreme sex-ratio bias in a natural population

Dyson, EAH, G. D. D.,  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America,  101:6520-6523. 2004.

The sex ratio is a key parameter in the evolution and ecology of a species. Selfish genetic elements that bias the sex ratio of affected individuals are well known and characterized, but their effect on populations has been considered limited, because either the element does not achieve high prevalence or the host rapidly evolves resistance to the distorting element, reducing its prevalence. We tested whether the host necessarily prevails by using a butterfly system where records from the early part of the 20th century reported extreme sex-ratio bias in nature. We reexamined this population and found the bias was present today, 400 generations after the original record, with a population sex ratio of 100 females per male. The sex-ratio bias was associated with the presence of a heritable male-killing Wolbachia infection in 99% of adult females, against which the host butterfly has failed to evolve resistance. The resultant dearth of males causes an average 57% reduction in the reproductive output of adult females. Persistence of the population despite the very high frequency of the sex-ratio distorter appears to be associated with the ability of males to mate >50 times in their life combined with a high intrinsic rate of increase of the species.