Evolution of quantitative traits in the wild: Mind the ecology

  • Pemberton J
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Abstract

Recent advances in the quantitative genetics of traits in wild animal populations have created new interest in whether natural selection, and genetic response to it, can be detected within long-term ecological studies. However, such studies have re-emphasized the fact that ecological heterogeneity can confound our ability to infer selection on genetic variation and detect a population's response to selection by conventional quantitative genetics approaches. Here, I highlight three manifestations of this issue: counter gradient variation, environmentally induced covariance between traits and the correlated effects of a fluctuating environment. These effects are symptomatic of the oversimplifications and strong assumptions of the breeder's equation when it is applied to natural populations. In addition, methods to assay genetic change in quantitative traits have overestimated the precision with which change can be measured. In the future, a more conservative approach to inferring quantitative genetic response to selection, or genomic approaches allowing the estimation of selection intensity and responses to selection at known quantitative trait loci, will provide a more precise view of evolution in ecological time.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Climate change
  • Environmental change
  • Estimated breeding value
  • Evolution
  • Response to selection
  • Selection

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Authors

  • Josephine M. Pemberton

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