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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Apr 15;100(8):4655-60. Epub 2003 Mar 14.

Genetic architecture and evolutionary constraint when the environment contains genes.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA.


The environment provided by conspecifics is often the most important component of the environment experienced by individuals, frequently having profound effects on fitness and trait expression. Although these social effects on fitness and trait expression may appear to be purely environmental, they differ from other sorts of environmental influences, because they can have a genetic basis and thus can contribute to evolution. Theory has shown that these effects modify the definition of genetic architecture by making the phenotype the property of the genotypes of multiple individuals and alter evolutionary dynamics by introducing additional heritable components contributing to trait evolution. These effects suggest that genetic and evolutionary analyses of traits influenced by social environments must incorporate the genetic components of variation contributed by these environments. However, empirical studies incorporating these effects are generally lacking. In this paper, I quantify the contribution of genetically based environmental effects arising from social interactions during group rearing to the quantitative genetics of body size in Drosophila melanogaster. The results demonstrate that the genetic architecture of body size contains an important component of variation contributed by the social environment, which is hidden to ordinary genetic analyses and opposes the direct effects of genes on body-size development within a population. Using a model of trait evolution, I show that these effects significantly alter evolutionary predictions by providing hidden constraints on phenotypic evolution. The importance of relatedness of interactants and the potential impact of kin selection on the evolution of body size are also examined.

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