Weak antagonistic fitness effects can maintain an inversion polymorphism
The study of chromosomal inversion polymorphisms has received much recent attention, particularly in cases where inversions have drastic effects on phenotypes and fitness (e.g. lethality of homozygotes). Less attention has been paid to the question of the maintenance of inversion polymorphisms that show only weak effects. Here, we study the maintenance of such an inversion polymorphism that links 250 genes on chromosome Tgu11 in the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata). Based on data from over 6000 captive birds, we estimated the effects of this inversion on a wide range of fitness-related traits. We found that, compared with the ancestral allele A, the inverted allele D had small additive beneficial effects on male siring success and on female fecundity. These fitness-enhancing effects may explain the initial spread of the derived D allele (allele frequency 53%). However, individuals that were homozygous for D had a slightly lower survival rate, which may explain why the D allele has not spread to fixation. We used individual-based simulations to examine how an inversion polymorphism with such antagonistic fitness effects behaves over time. Our results indicate that polymorphisms become stabilized at an intermediate allele frequency if the inversion links an additively beneficial allele of small effect size to a recessive weakly deleterious mutation, overall resulting in weak net heterosis. Importantly, this conclusion remains valid over a wide range of selection coefficients against the homozygous DD (up to lethality), suggesting that the conditions needed to maintain the polymorphism may frequently be met. However, the simulations also suggest that in our zebra finch populations, the estimated recessive deleterious effect of the D allele (on survival in captivity) is not quite large enough to prevent fixation of the D allele in the long run. Estimates of fitness effects from free-living populations are needed to validate these results.