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Am Nat. 2006 Jan;167(1):E23-38. Epub 2005 Nov 29.

Ontogeny of additive and maternal genetic effects: lessons from domestic mammals.

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  • 1Institute of Evolutionary Biology, University of Edinburgh, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, United Kingdom. alastair.wilson@ed.ac.uk


Evolution of size and growth depends on heritable variation arising from additive and maternal genetic effects. Levels of heritable (and nonheritable) variation might change over ontogeny, increasing through "variance compounding" or decreasing through "compensatory growth." We test for these processes using a meta-analysis of age-specific weight traits in domestic ungulates. Generally, mean standardized variance components decrease with age, consistent with compensatory growth. Phenotypic convergence among adult sheep occurs through decreasing environmental and maternal genetic variation. Maternal variation similarly declines in cattle. Maternal genetic effects are thus reduced with age (both in absolute and relative terms). Significant trends in heritability (decreasing in cattle, increasing in sheep) result from declining maternal and environmental components rather than from changing additive variation. There was no evidence for increasing standardized variance components. Any compounding must therefore be masked by more important compensatory processes. While extrapolation of these patterns to processes in natural population is difficult, our results highlight the inadequacy of assuming constancy in genetic parameters over ontogeny. Negative covariance between direct and maternal genetic effects was common. Negative correlations with additive and maternal genetic variances indicate that antagonistic pleiotropy (between additive and maternal genetic effects) may maintain genetic variance and limit responses to selection.

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