Genetic Analysis of Life-History Constraint and Evolution in a Wild Ungulate Population

Michael B. Morrissey, Craig A. Walling, Alastair J. Wilson, Josephine M. Pemberton, Tim H. Clutton-Brock, Loeske E. B. Kruuk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Trade-offs among life-history traits are central to evolutionary theory. In quantitative genetic terms, trade-offs may be manifested as negative genetic covariances relative to the direction of selection on phenotypic traits. Although the expression and selection of ecologically important phenotypic variation are fundamentally multivariate phenomena, the in situ quantification of genetic covariances is challenging. Even for life-history traits, where well-developed theory exists with which to relate phenotypic variation to fitness variation, little evidence exists from in situ studies that negative genetic covariances are an important aspect of the genetic architecture of life-history traits. In fact, the majority of reported estimates of genetic covariances among life-history traits are positive. Here we apply theory of the genetics and selection of life histories in organisms with complex life cycles to provide a framework for quantifying the contribution of multivariate genetically based relationships among traits to evolutionary constraint. We use a Bayesian framework to link pedigree-based inference of the genetic basis of variation in life-history traits to evolutionary demography theory regarding how life histories are selected. Our results suggest that genetic covariances may be acting to constrain the evolution of female life-history traits in a wild population of red deer Cervus elaphus: genetic covariances are estimated to reduce the rate of adaptation by about 40%, relative to predicted evolutionary change in the absence of genetic covariances. Furthermore, multivariate phenotypic (rather than genetic) relationships among female life-history traits do not reveal this constraint.
Dryad data:
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E97-E114
Number of pages18
JournalThe American Naturalist
Issue number4
Early online date24 Feb 2012
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2012

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • life history
  • quantative genetics
  • natural selection
  • constraint
  • projection model
  • sensitivity
  • red deer
  • Cervus elaphus


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