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Evolution. 2000 Apr;54(2):452-61.

Quantitative genetics and the persistence of environmental effects in clonally propagated organisms.

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  • 1Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks 99775-6100, USA.


Phenotype is often viewed as a product of genes and the environment in which these genes are expressed. However, numerous studies have shown that environment can cause lasting changes in phenotype that can be passed from one generation to the next, much as genes are transmitted. In clonally propagated organisms, persistence of environmental effects has been observed in a range of plant and animal species, but has rarely been the object of study. We measured the persistence and magnitude of environmental effects on phenotype over three clonal generations in the arctic sedge Eriophorum vaginatum. We found that the environment in which tillers developed had large effects on their later performance (parental effects) and that these effects were in part independent of the size of tillers. The magnitude and persistence of environmental effects did not differ between environmental treatments or among genotypes. However, after 52 weeks of growth and two rounds of clonal propagation, grandparental treatment effects were not significant. We describe methods that can be used in quantitative genetics studies of clonal organisms to reduce bias in estimates of genotypic and environmental variance and argue that the persistence of environmental effects in clonal plant material has ecological and evolutionary consequences similar to those described for maternal environmental effects in sexual organisms.

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