Skip to main content
Dryad logo

Data files for: Hazardous loss of genetic diversity through selective sweeps in asexual populations


Wahl, Lindi; Tanaka, Mark (2021), Data files for: Hazardous loss of genetic diversity through selective sweeps in asexual populations, Dryad, Dataset,


With the two-fold cost of sex, derived asexual organisms have an immediate reproductive advantage over their sexual sisters.  Yet the "twiggy'' phylogenetic distribution of asexual lineages implies that they go extinct relatively quickly over evolutionary time.  Meanwhile, bacteria and archaea have persisted for billions of years without requiring sexual reproduction. A simple explanation for this difference is that prokaryotes have very large population sizes that are not subject to the accumulation of deleterious mutations, but this implies that drift and mutational meltdown dominate derived asexual populations.  

We explored a different hazard, quantifying the degree to which genetic variation is lost in asexual populations experiencing selective sweeps.  Even though large populations generate diversity by mutation during sweeps, we find that populations that are safe from mutational meltdown may still be reduced to dangerous effective population sizes by sweeps.  Thus, ironically, adaptation itself reduces further adaptive potential and may predispose asexual populations to extinction.  Our data give results for the probability of mutational meltdown across various population sizes, the critical population size required to avoid meltdown, and the effect of selective sweeps on heterozygosity.  Analytical predictions are confirmed by simulation.

We also derive a simple approximation for the effective population size after a hard sweep, and quantify the impact of recent sweeps on evolutionary rescue. These factors may help to explain the phylogenetic twigginess of asexuals, the maintenance of sex and recombination, and the evolutionary persistence of prokaryotes.


See github repository for code to both create and use these data.

Usage Notes

Please see the README.txt file for details regarding each data file.


Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Award: RGPIN-2019-06294

Australian Research Council, Award: DP170101917