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Evolution. 2005 Nov;59(11):2287-98.

An exact form of the breeder's equation for the evolution of a quantitative trait under natural selection.

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  • 1Biology Department, Missouri State University, Springfield 65897, USA.


Starting with the Price equation, I show that the total evolutionary change in mean phenotype that occurs in the presence of fitness variation can be partitioned exactly into five components representing logically distinct processes. One component is the linear response to selection, as represented by the breeder's equation of quantitative genetics, but with heritability defined as the linear regression coefficient of mean offspring phenotype on parent phenotype. The other components are identified as constitutive transmission bias, two types of induced transmission bias, and a spurious response to selection caused by a covariance between parental fitness and offspring phenotype that cannot be predicted from parental phenotypes. The partitioning can be accomplished in two ways, one with heritability measured before (in the absence of) selection, and the other with heritability measured after (in the presence of) selection. Measuring heritability after selection, though unconventional, yields a representation for the linear response to selection that is most consistent with Darwinian evolution by natural selection because the response to selection is determined by the reproductive features of the selected group, not of the parent population as a whole. The analysis of an explicitly Mendelian model shows that the relative contributions of the five terms to the total evolutionary change depends on the level of organization (gene, individual, or mated pair) at which the parent population is divided into phenotypes, with each frame of reference providing unique insight. It is shown that all five components of phenotypic evolution will generally have nonzero values as a result of various combinations of the normal features of Mendelian populations, including biparental sex, allelic dominance, inbreeding, epistasis, linkage disequilibrium, and environmental covariances between traits. Additive genetic variance can be a poor predictor of the adaptive response to selection in these models. The narrow-sense heritability sigma2A/sigma2P should be viewed as an approximation to the offspring-parent linear regression rather than the other way around.

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