Accumulation of deleterious mutations has important consequences for the evolution of mating systems and the persistence of small populations. It is well established that consanguineous mating can purge a part of the mutation load and that lethal mutations can also be purged in small populations. However, the efficiency of purging in natural populations, due to either consanguineous mating or to reduced population size, has been questioned. Consequences of consanguineous mating systems and small population size are often equated under “inbreeding” because both increase homozygosity, and selection is though to be more efficient against homozygous deleterious alleles. I show that two processes of purging that I call “purging by drift” and “purging by nonrandom mating” have to be distinguished. Conditions under which the two ways of purging are effective are derived. Nonrandom mating can purge deleterious mutations regardless of their dominance level, whereas only highly recessive mutations can be purged by drift. Both types of purging are limited by population size, and sharp thresholds separate domains where purging is either effective or not. The limitations derived here on the efficiency of purging are compatible with some experimental studies. Implications of these results for conservation and evolution of mating systems are discussed.
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Vol. 57 • No. 12