Stability properties of underdominance in finite subdivided populations

Altrock, PMT, A.; Reed, F. A.,  PLOS Computational Biology,  7:10. 2011.

In isolated populations underdominance leads to bistable evolutionary dynamics: below a certain mutant allele frequency the wildtype succeeds. Above this point, the potentially underdominant mutant allele fixes. In subdivided populations with gene flow there can be stable states with coexistence of wildtypes and mutants: polymorphism can be maintained because of a migration-selection equilibrium, i.e., selection against rare recent immigrant alleles that tend to be heterozygous. We focus on the stochastic evolutionary dynamics of systems where demographic fluctuations in the coupled populations are the main source of internal noise. We discuss the influence of fitness, migration rate, and the relative sizes of two interacting populations on the mean extinction times of a group of potentially underdominant mutant alleles. We classify realistic initial conditions according to their impact on the stochastic extinction process. Even in small populations, where demographic fluctuations are large, stability properties predicted from deterministic dynamics show remarkable robustness. Fixation of the mutant allele becomes unlikely but the time to its extinction can be long.