Soft Selective Sweeps in Complex Demographic Scenarios
Benjamin A. Wilson, Dmitri A. Petrov, Philipp W. Messer


Adaptation from de novo mutation can produce so-called soft selective sweeps, where adaptive alleles of independent mutational origin sweep through the population at the same time. Population genetic theory predicts that such soft sweeps should be likely if the product of the population size and the mutation rate towards the adaptive allele is sufficiently large, such that multiple adaptive mutations can establish before one has reached fixation; however, it remains unclear how demographic processes affect the probability of observing soft sweeps. Here we extend the theory of soft selective sweeps to realistic demographic scenarios that allow for changes in population size over time. We first show that population bottlenecks can lead to the removal of all but one adaptive lineage from an initially soft selective sweep. The parameter regime under which such 'hardening' of soft selective sweeps is likely is determined by a simple heuristic condition. We further develop a generalized analytical framework, based on an extension of the coalescent process, for calculating the probability of soft sweeps under arbitrary demographic scenarios. Two important limits emerge within this analytical framework: In the limit where population size fluctuations are fast compared to the duration of the sweep, the likelihood of soft sweeps is determined by the harmonic mean of the variance effective population size estimated over the duration of the sweep; in the opposing slow fluctuation limit, the likelihood of soft sweeps is determined by the instantaneous variance effective population size at the onset of the sweep. We show that as a consequence of this finding the probability of observing soft sweeps becomes a function of the strength of selection. Specifically, in species with sharply fluctuating population size, strong selection is more likely to produce soft sweeps than weak selection. Our results highlight the importance of accurate demographic estimates over short evolutionary timescales for understanding the population genetics of adaptation from de novo mutation.

  • Received April 21, 2014.
  • Accepted July 16, 2014.