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Am Nat. 2006 Sep;168(3):323-35. Epub 2006 Jul 26.

Experimental evolution of phenotypic plasticity: how predictive are cross-environment genetic correlations?

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  • 1Department of Biology, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York 12604, USA.


Genetic correlations are often predictive of correlated responses of one trait to selection on another trait. There are examples, however, in which genetic correlations are not predictive of correlated responses. We examine how well a cross-environment genetic correlation predicts correlated responses to selection and the evolution of phenotypic plasticity in the seed beetle Stator limbatus. This beetle exhibits adaptive plasticity in egg size by laying large eggs on a resistant host and small eggs on a high-quality host. From a half-sib analysis, the cross-environment genetic correlation estimate was large and positive (rA=0.99). However, an artificial-selection experiment on egg size found that the realized genetic correlations were positive but asymmetrical; that is, they depended on both the host on which selection was imposed and the direction of selection. The half-sib estimate poorly predicted the evolution of egg size plasticity; plasticity evolved when selection was imposed on one host but did not evolve when selection was imposed on the other host. We use a simple two-locus additive genetic model to explore the conditions that can generate the observed realized genetic correlation and the observed pattern of plasticity evolution. Our model and experimental results indicate that the ability of genetic correlations to predict correlated responses to selection depends on the underlying genetic architecture producing the genetic correlation.

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