Cryptic Evolution: Does Environmental Deterioration Have a Genetic Basis?

Jarrod D. Hadfield, Alastair J. Wilson, Loeske E. B. Kruuk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cryptic evolution has been defined as adaptive evolutionary change being masked by concurrent environmental change. Empirical studies of cryptic evolution have usually invoked a changing climate and/or increasing population density as the form of detrimental environmental change experienced by a population undergoing cryptic evolution. However, Fisher (1958) emphasized that evolutionary change in itself is likely to be an important component of "environmental deterioration," a point restated by Cooke et al. (1990) in the context of intraspecific competition. In this form, environmental deterioration arises because a winning lineage has to compete against more winners in successive generations as the population evolves. This "evolutionary environmental deterioration" has different implications for the selection and evolution of traits influenced by resource competition than general environmental change. We reformulate Cooke's model as a quantitative genetic model to show that it is identical in form to more recent developments proposed by quantitative geneticists. This provides a statistical framework for discriminating between the alternative hypotheses of environmental change and environmental deterioration caused by evolutionary change. We also demonstrate that in systems where no phenotypic change has occurred, there are many reasonable biological processes that will generate patterns in predicted breeding values that are consistent with what has been interpreted as cryptic evolution, and care needs to be taken when interpreting these patterns. These processes include mutation, sib competition, and invisible fractions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1099-1113
Number of pages15
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2011


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