Genetic mechanisms of floral trait correlations in a natural population

  • Conner J
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Genetic correlations among traits are important in evolution, as they can constrain evolutionary change or reflect past selection for combinations of traits. Constraints and integration depend on whether the correlations are caused by pleiotropy or linkage disequilibrium, but these genetic mechanisms underlying correlations remain largely unknown in natural populations. Quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping studies do not adequately address the mechanisms of within-population genetic correlations because they rely on crosses between distinct species, inbred lines or selected lines (see ref. 5), and they cannot distinguish moderate linkage disequilibrium from pleiotropy because they commonly rely on only one or two episodes of recombination. Here I report that after nine generations of enforced random mating (nine episodes of recombination), correlations between six floral traits in wild radish plants are unchanged, showing that pleiotropy generates the correlations. There is no evidence for linkage disequilibrium despite previous correlational selection acting on one functionally integrated pair of traits. This study provides direct evidence of the genetic mechanisms underlying correlations between quantitative traits in a natural population and suggests that there may be constraints on the independent evolution of pairs of highly correlated traits.

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  • Jeffrey K. Conner

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