Different mechanisms drive the maintenance of polymorphism at loci subject to strong versus weak fluctuating selection

Jason Bertram, Joanna Masel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


The long-running debate about the role of selection in maintaining genetic variation has been given new impetus by the discovery of hundreds of seasonally oscillating polymorphisms in wild Drosophila, possibly stabilized by an alternating summer-winter selection regime. Historically, there has been skepticism about the potential of temporal variation to balance polymorphism, because selection must be strong to have a meaningful stabilizing effect—unless dominance also varies over time (“reversal of dominance”). Here, we develop a simplified model of seasonally variable selection that simultaneously incorporates four different stabilizing mechanisms, including two genetic mechanisms (“cumulative overdominance” and reversal of dominance), as well as ecological “storage” (“protection from selection” and boom-bust demography). We use our model to compare the stabilizing effects of these mechanisms. Although reversal of dominance has by far the greatest stabilizing effect, we argue that the three other mechanisms could also stabilize polymorphism under plausible conditions, particularly when all three are present. With many loci subject to diminishing returns epistasis, reversal of dominance stabilizes many alleles of small effect. This makes the combination of the other three mechanisms, which are incapable of stabilizing small effect alleles, a better candidate for stabilizing the detectable frequency oscillations of large effect alleles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)883-896
Number of pages14
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2019


  • Balancing selection
  • eco-evolutionary dynamics
  • polygenic adaptation
  • rapid adaptation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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