Statistical Mechanics and the Evolution of Polygenic Quantitative Traits

N. H. Barton, H. P. de Vladar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The evolution of quantitative characters depends on the frequencies of the alleles involved, yet these frequencies cannot usually be measured. Previous groups have proposed an approximation to the dynamics of quantitative traits, based on an analogy with statistical mechanics. We present a modified version of that. approach, which makes the analogy more precise and applies quite generally to describe the evolution of allele frequencies. We calculate explicitly how the macroscopic quantities (i.e., quantities that. depend on the quantitative trait) depend on evolutionary forces, in a way that is independent of the microscopic details. We first show that the stationary distribution of allele frequencies under drift, selection, and Mutation maximizes a certain measure of entropy, subject to constraints on the expectation of observable quantities. We then approximate the dynamical changes in these expectations, assuming that the distribution of allele frequencies always maximizes entropy, conditional on the expected values. When applied to directional selection on an additive trait, this gives a very good approximation to the evolution of the trait mean and the genetic variance, when the number of mutations per generation is sufficiently high (4N mu > 1). We show how the method can be modified for small Mutation rates (4N mu -> 0). We outline how this method describes epistatic interactions as, for example, with stabilizing selection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)997-1011
Number of pages15
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2009


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