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Genetic drift opposes mutualism during spatial population expansion

DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1313285111

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Mutualistic interactions benefit both partners, promoting coexistence and genetic diversity. Spatial structure can promote cooperation, but spatial expansions may also make it hard for mutualistic partners to stay together, since genetic drift at the expansion front creates regions of low genetic and species diversity. To explore the antagonism between mutualism and genetic drift, we grew cross-feeding strains of the budding yeast S. cerevisiae on agar surfaces as a model for mutualists undergoing spatial expansions. By supplying varying amounts of the exchanged nutrients, we tuned strength and symmetry of the mutualistic interaction. Strong mutualism suppresses genetic demixing during spatial expansions and thereby maintains diversity, but weak or asymmetric mutualism is overwhelmed by genetic drift even when mutualism is still beneficial, slowing growth and reducing diversity. Theoretical modeling using experimentally measured parameters predicts the size of demixed regions and how strong mutualism must be to survive a spatial expansion.


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