We have carried out an investigation of the effects of various parameters on the accumulation of deleterious mutant alleles in finite diploid populations. Two different processes contribute to mutation accumulation. In random-mating populations of very small size and with tight linkage, fixation of mutant alleles occurs at a high rate, but decreases with extremely tight linkage. With very restricted recombination, the numbers of low-frequency mutant alleles per genome in randommating populations increase over time independently of fixation (Muller's ratchet). Increased population size affects the ratchet less than the fixation process, and the decline in population fitness is dominated by the ratchet in populations of size greater than about 100, especially with high mutation rates. The effects of differences in the selection parameters (strength of selection, dominance coefficient), of multiplicative versus synergistic selection, and of different amounts of inbreeding, are complex, but can be interpreted in terms of opposing effects of selection on individual loci and associations between loci. Stronger selection slows the accumulation of mutations, though a faster decline in mean fitness sometimes results. Increasing dominance tends to have a similar effect to greater strength of selection. High inbreeding slows the ratchet, because the increased homozygous expression of mutant alleles in inbred populations has effects similar to stronger selection, and because with inbreeding there is a higher initial frequency of the least loaded class. Fixation of deleterious mutations is accelerated in highly inbred populations. Even with inbreeding, sexual populations larger than 100 will probably rarely experience mutation accumulation to the point that their survival is endangered because neither fixation nor the ratchet has effects of the magnitude seen in asexual populations. The effects of breeding system and rate of recombination on the rate of molecular evolution by the fixation of slightly deleterious alleles are discussed.
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