Early-acting inbreeding depression can evolve as an inbreeding avoidance mechanism

Yaniv Brandvain, Lia Thomson, Tanja Pyhäjärvi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite the potential for mechanical, developmental and/or chemical mechanisms to prevent self-fertilization, incidental self-fertilization is inevitable in many predominantly outcrossing species. In such cases, inbreeding can compromise individual fitness. Unquestionably, much of this inbreeding depression is maladaptive. However, we show that when reproductive compensation allows for the replacement of inviable embryos lost early in development, selection can favour deleterious recessive variants that induce ‘self-sacrificial’ death of inbred embryos. Our theoretical results provide numerous testable predictions which could challenge the assumption that inbreeding depression is always maladaptive. Our work is applicable any species that cannot fully avoid inbreeding, exhibits substantial inbreeding depression, and has the potential to compensate embryos lost early in development. In addition to its general applicability, our theory suggests that self-sacrificial variants might be responsible for the remarkably low realized selfing rates of gymnosperms with high primary selfing rates, as gymnosperms exhibit strong inbreeding depression, have effective reproductive compensation mechanisms, and cannot evolve chemical self-incompatibility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20232467
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number2018
StatePublished - Mar 6 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Authors.


  • altruism
  • inbreeding depression
  • reproductive compensation
  • self-incompatibility

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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