Meiotic drive shapes rates of karyotype evolution in mammals

Heath Blackmon, Joshua Justison, Itay Mayrose, Emma E. Goldberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Chromosome number is perhaps the most basic characteristic of a genome, yet generalizations that can explain the evolution of this trait across large clades have remained elusive. Using karyotype data from over 1000 mammals, we developed and applied a phylogenetic model of chromosome evolution that links chromosome number changes with karyotype morphology. Using our model, we infer that rates of chromosome number evolution are significantly lower in species with karyotypes that consist of either all bibrachial or all monobrachial chromosomes than in species with a mix of both types of morphologies. We suggest that species with homogeneous karyotypes may represent cases where meiotic drive acts to stabilize the karyotype, favoring the chromosome morphologies already present in the genome. In contrast, rapid bouts of chromosome number evolution in taxa with mixed karyotypes may indicate that a switch in the polarity of female meiotic drive favors changes in chromosome number. We do not find any evidence that karyotype morphology affects rates of speciation or extinction. Furthermore, we document that switches in meiotic drive polarity are likely common and have occurred in most major clades of mammals, and that rapid remodeling of karyotypes may be more common than once thought.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)511-523
Number of pages13
JournalEvolution; international journal of organic evolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2019


  • Chromosome number
  • meiosis
  • meiotic drive
  • probabilistic phylogenetic models


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