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Am Nat. 2002 Mar;159 Suppl 3:S76-88. doi: 10.1086/338374.

The genetic architecture of ecological specialization: correlated gene effects on host use and habitat choice in pea aphids.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, USA.


Genetic correlations among phenotypic characters result when two traits are influenced by the same genes or sets of genes. By reducing the degree to which traits in two environments can evolve independently (e.g., Lande 1979; Via and Lande 1985), such correlations are likely to play a central role in both the evolution of ecological specialization and in its link to speciation. For example, negative genetic correlations between fitness traits in different environments (i.e., genetic trade-offs) are thought to influence the evolution of specialization, while positive genetic correlations between performance and characters influencing assortative mating can accelerate the evolution of reproductive isolation between ecologically specialized populations. We first discuss how the genetic architecture of a suite of traits may affect the evolutionary role of genetic correlations among them and review how the mechanisms of correlations can be analyzed using quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping. We then consider the implications of such data for understanding the evolution of specialization and its link to speciation. We illustrate this approach with a QTL analysis of key characters in two races of pea aphids that are highly specialized on different host plants and partially reproductively isolated. Our results suggest that antagonism among QTL effects on performance in the two environments leads to a genetic trade-off in this system. We also found evidence for parallel QTL effects on host-plant acceptance and fecundity on the accepted host, which could produce assortative mating. These results suggest that the genetic architecture of traits associated with host use may have played a central role in the evolution of specialization and reproductive isolation in pea aphids.

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