Sex has many costs with respect to asexual reproduction, so its ubiquity is a puzzle. There has been a continuing effort to identify general circumstances in which aspects of sex generate an evolutionary advantage over asexual reproduction. Here we focus on the generality that individuals can experience good and bad “luck” at various stages of their life history regardless of genotype, and on the interindividual nature of sex. Sexual outcrossing combines genetic information from individuals with potentially different experiences, so it is conceivable that sex might reduce the contribution of individual luck to noise in inheritance. In a simple way, we derive expressions for noise in inheritance in terms of some sources of within-generation ecological noise. We demonstrate that interindividual reproduction can indeed dampen the effects of ecological noise better than lone-individual modes, but there are conditions under which it does not. Empirical and theoretical work on plants, modeled here, suggest noise dampening conditions. Ecological noise dampening operates alongside other features of sex such as recombination and segregation and, because noise in inheritance weakens the role of selection in genetic change, we speculate that noise dampening may offer a benefit to be deducted from the costs of sex. We also suggest that the amount of selfing relative to outcrossing observed in natural populations may be influenced by the amount of individual-level ecological noise in a given habitat.
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Vol. 63 • No. 1