Sexual Reproduction as Bet-Hedging

  • Xiang-Yi LiEmail author
  • Jussi Lehtonen
  • Hanna Kokko
Part of the Annals of the International Society of Dynamic Games book series (AISDG, volume 15)


In evolutionary biology, bet-hedging refers to a strategy that reduces the variance of reproductive success at the cost of reduced mean reproductive success. In unpredictably fluctuating environments, bet-hedgers benefit from higher geometric mean fitness despite having lower arithmetic mean fitness than their specialist competitors. We examine the extent to which sexual reproduction can be considered a type of bet-hedging, by clarifying past arguments, examining parallels and differences to evolutionary games and presenting a simple model examining geometric and arithmetic mean payoffs of sexual and asexual reproduction. Sex typically has lower arithmetic mean fitness than asex, while the geometric mean fitness can be higher if sexually produced offspring are not identical. However, asexual individuals that are heterozygotes can gain conservative bet-hedging benefits of similar magnitude while avoiding the costs of sex. This highlights that bet-hedging always has to be specified relative to the payoff structure of relevant competitors. It also makes it unlikely that sex, at least when associated with significant male production, evolves solely based on bet-hedging in the context of frequently and repeatedly occupied environmental states. Future work could usefully consider bet-hedging in open-ended evolutionary scenarios with de novo mutations.


Bet-hedging Environmental fluctuation Evolutionary games Geometric mean fitness Sexual reproduction 



We thank the two anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions. X.L. and H.K. are grateful to the Swiss National Science Foundation. J.L. was funded by a University of New South Wales Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. All authors thank the organisers of the 17th International Symposium on Dynamic Games and Applications.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental StudiesUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Evolution and Ecology Research Centre, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

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