Spontaneous mutations play a fundamental role in the maintenance of genetic variation in natural populations, the nature of inbreeding depression, the evolution of sexual reproduction, and the conservation of endangered species. Using long-term mutation-accumulation lines of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, we estimate the rate and magnitude of mutational effects for a suite of behaviors characterizing individual chemosensory responses to a repellant stimulus. In accordance with evidence that the vast majority of mutations are deleterious, we find that behavioral responses degrade over time as a result of spontaneous mutation accumulation. The rate of mutation for behavioral traits is roughly of the same order or slightly smaller than those previously estimated for reproductive traits and the average size of the mutational effects is also comparable. These results have important implications for the maintenance of genetic variation for behavior in natural populations as well as for expectations for behavioral change within endangered species and captive populations.
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