The extent of genetic variation in fitness is a crucial issue in evolutionary biology and yet remains largely unresolved. In Drosophila melanogaster, we have devised a method that allows the net effects on fitness of heterozygous wild-type chromosomes to be measured, by competing them against two different "balancer" chromosomes. We have applied the method to a large sample of 40 wild-type third chromosomes and have measured fitnesses of nonlethal chromosomes as well as chromosomes bearing recessive lethals. The measurements were made in the environment to which the population was adapted and did not involve inbreeding. The results show an extraordinary similarity in the behavior of replicates of the same chromosome, indicating consistent genetic effects on total fitness. Some invading chromosomes increased rapidly and some slowly, and some rose to appreciable frequency after several months, but then declined again: in every case, the same pattern was seen in each replicate. We estimated relative fitnesses, rates of change of fitness, and relative viabilities, for each chromosome. There were significant fluctuations around the fitted model, which were also highly replicable. Wild-type chromosomes varied substantially in their effects on heterozygous fitness, and these effects vary through time, most likely as a result of genotype x environment interactions.
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