The fitness effects of mutations on a given genotype are rarely constant across environments to which this genotype is more or less adapted, that is, between more or less stressful conditions. This can have important implications, especially on the evolution of ecological specialization. Stress is thought to increase the variance of mutations' fitness effects, their average, or the number of expressed mutations. Although empirical evidence is available for these three mechanisms, their relative magnitude is poorly understood. In this paper, we propose a simple approach to discriminate between these mechanisms, using a survey of empirical measures of mutation effects in contrasted environments. This survey, across various species and environments, shows that stress mainly increases the variance of mutations' effects on fitness, with a much more limited impact on their average effect or on the number of expressed mutations. This pattern is consistent with a simple model in which fitness is a Gaussian function of phenotypes around an environmentally determined optimum. These results suggest that a simple, mathematically tractable landscape model may not be quantitatively as unrealistic as previously suggested. They also suggest that mutation parameter estimates may be strongly biased when measured in stressful environments.
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Vol. 60 • No. 12