Evidence for selection-by-environment but not genotype-by-environment interactions for fitness-related traits in a wild mammal population

Adam D. Hayward*, Josephine M. Pemberton, Camillo Berenos, Alastair J. Wilson, Jill G. Pilkington, Loeske E.B. Kruuk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How do environmental conditions influence selection and genetic variation in wild populations? There is widespread evidence for selection-by-environment interactions (S*E), but we reviewed studies of natural populations estimating the extent of genotype-by-environment interactions (G*E) in response to natural variation in environmental conditions and found that evidence for G*E appears to be rare within single populations in the wild. Studies estimating the simultaneous impact of environmental variation on both selection and genetic variation are especially scarce. Here, we used 24 years of data collected from a wild Soay sheep population to quantify how an important environmental variable, population density, impacts upon (1) selection through annual contribution to fitness and (2) expression of genetic variation, in six morphological and life history traits: body weight, hind leg length, parasite burden, horn length, horn growth, and testicular circumference. Our results supported the existence of S*E: selection was stronger in years of higher population density for all traits apart from horn growth, with directional selection being stronger under more adverse conditions. Quantitative genetic models revealed significant additive genetic variance for body weight, leg length, parasite burden, horn length, and testes size, but not for horn growth or our measure of annual fitness. However, random regression models found variation between individuals in their responses to the environment in only three traits, and did not support the presence of G*E for any trait. Our analyses of St Kilda Soay sheep data thus concurs with our cross-study review that, while natural environmental variation within a population can profoundly alter the strength of selection on phenotypic traits, there is less evidence for its effect on the expression of genetic variance in the wild.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-364
Number of pages16
Issue number1
Early online date10 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


  • Environmental variation
  • G*E
  • Natural selection
  • Quantitative genetics
  • Random regression


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