According to classical evolutionary theory, sexual recombination can generate the variation necessary to adapt to changing environments and thereby confer an evolutionary advantage of sexual over asexual reproduction. Using the green alga, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, we investigated the effect of a single sexual episode on adaptation of heterotrophic growth on different carbon sources. In an initial mixture of isolates, sex was induced and the resulting offspring constituted the sexual populations, along with any unmated vegetative cells; the unmated mixture of isolates represented the asexual populations. Mean and variance in division rates (i.e., fitness) were measured four times during approximately 50 generations of vegetative growth in the dark on all possible combinations of four carbon sources. Consistent with effects of recombination of epistatic genes in linkage disequilibrium, sexual populations initially had a higher variance in fitness, but their mean fitness was lower than that of asexual populations, possibly due to recombinational load. Subsequently, fitness of sexual populations exceeded that of asexual ones, but finally they regained parity in both mean and variance of fitness. Although recombination was not more effective on more complex substrates, these results generally support the idea that sex can accelerate adaptation to novel environments.
Corresponding Editor: T. Kawecki