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Heredity (Edinb). 1991 Jun;66 ( Pt 3):313-23.

Soft selection and quantitative genetic variation: a laboratory experiment.

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  • 1Departamento de Genética, Facultad de Biologia, Universidad Complutense, Madrid, Spain.


The effect of environmental heterogeneity on the genetic variation of different quantitative characters was studied in two laboratory and two recently captured populations of Drosophila melanogaster. Two different culture media (habitats R and G) were used. Coarse-grained heterogeneity with independent density control in each habitat (R + G), and fine-grained (R/G) heterogeneity were simulated in population cages. Control populations in both R and G habitats were also maintained. Genetic differences for oviposition-site preference, larval preference and/or within-habitat viability were found between subpopulations sampled from different media. This happened in all four populations maintained on R + G, two populations maintained on R/G, and one control population. Thus, environmental heterogeneity seems to protect genetic variability responsible for between-habitat genetic differentiation, particularly when such heterogeneity corresponds to the 'soft selection' model (R + G). However, for the quasi-neutral trait sternopleural bristle number, no genetic between-habitat differentiation, nor increased heritability were observed in populations maintained under any kind of environmental heterogeneity. Hence, although soft selection seems to be a real force in determining adaptation to heterogeneous environments, the genetic variability maintained may be small in relation to the whole genome.

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