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Physiol Biochem Zool. 2013 Sep-Oct;86(5):538-46. doi: 10.1086/672092. Epub 2013 Aug 15.

Metabolism, growth, and the energetic definition of fitness: a quantitative genetic study in the land snail Cornu aspersum.

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  • 1Instituto de Ciencias Ambientales y Evolutivas, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia 5090000, Chile.


Life-history evolution-the way organisms allocate time and energy to reproduction, survival, and growth-is a central question in evolutionary biology. One of its main tenets, the allocation principle, predicts that selection will reduce energy costs of maintenance in order to divert energy to survival and reproduction. The empirical support for this principle is the existence of a negative relationship between fitness and metabolic rate, which has been observed in some ectotherms. In juvenile animals, a key function affecting fitness is growth rate, since fast growers will reproduce sooner and maximize survival. In principle, design constraints dictate that growth rate cannot be reduced without affecting maintenance costs. Hence, it is predicted that juveniles will show a positive relationship between fitness (growth rate) and metabolic rate, contrarily to what has been observed in adults. Here we explored this problem using land snails (Cornu aspersum). We estimated the additive genetic variance-covariance matrix for growth and standard metabolic rate (SMR; rate of CO2 production) using 34 half-sibling families. We measured eggs, hatchlings, and juveniles in 208 offspring that were isolated right after egg laying (i.e., minimizing maternal and common environmental variance). Surprisingly, our results showed that additive genetic effects (narrow-sense heritabilities, h(2)) and additive genetic correlations (rG) were small and nonsignificant. However, the nonadditive proportion of phenotypic variances and correlations (rC) were unexpectedly large and significant. In fact, nonadditive genetic effects were positive for growth rate and SMR ([Formula: see text]; [Formula: see text]), supporting the idea that fitness (growth rate) cannot be maximized without incurring maintenance costs. Large nonadditive genetic variances could result as a consequence of selection eroding the additive genetic component, which suggests that past selection could have produced nonadditive genetic correlation. It is predicted that this correlation is reduced when adulthood is attained and selection starts to promote the reduction in metabolic rate.

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