The cost of germline maintenance gives rise to a trade-off between lowering the deleterious mutation rate and investing in life history functions. Therefore, life history and the mutation rate coevolve, but this coevolution is not well understood. We develop a mathematical model to analyse the evolution of resource allocation traits, which simultaneously affect life history and the deleterious mutation rate. First, we show that the invasion fitness of such resource allocation traits can be approximated by the basic reproductive number of the least-loaded class; the expected lifetime production of offspring without deleterious mutations born to individuals without deleterious mutations. Second, we apply the model to investigate (i) the coevolution of reproductive effort and germline maintenance and (ii) the coevolution of age-at-maturity and germline maintenance. This analysis provides two resource allocation predictions when exposure to environmental mutagens is higher. First, selection favours higher allocation to germline maintenance, even if it comes at the expense of life history functions, and leads to a shift in allocation towards reproduction rather than survival. Second, life histories tend to be faster, characterised by individuals with shorter lifespans and smaller body sizes at maturity. Our results suggest that mutation accumulation via the cost of germline maintenance can be a major force shaping life-history traits.
Journal of Theoretical Biology, vol. 573, n. 111598, September 2023