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Genetica. 2005 Feb;123(1-2):107-24.

Evolution in heterogeneous environments and the potential of maintenance of genetic variation in traits of adaptive significance.

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Behavior, Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics Section, Department of Biological Sciences, Illinois State University, Campus Box 4120, Normal, IL 61790-4120, USA.


The maintenance of genetic variation in traits of adaptive significance has been a major dilemma of evolutionary biology. Considering the pattern of increased genetic variation associated with environmental clines and heterogeneous environments, selection in heterogeneous environments has been proposed to facilitate the maintenance of genetic variation. Some models examining whether genetic variation can be maintained, in heterogeneous environments are reviewed. Genetic mechanisms that constrain evolution in quantitative genetic traits indicate that genetic variation can be maintained but when is not clear. Furthermore, no comprehensive models have been developed, likely due to the genetic and environmental complexity of this issue. Therefore, I have suggested two empirical approaches to provide insight for future theoretical and empirical research. Traditional path analysis has been a very powerful approach for understanding phenotypic selection. However, it requires substantial information on the biology of the study system to construct a causal model and alternatives. Exploratory path analysis is a data driven approach that uses the statistical relationships in the data to construct a set of models. For example, it can be used for understanding phenotypic selection in different environments, where there is no prior information to develop path models in the different environments. Data from Brassica rapa grown in different nutrients indicated that selection changed in the different environments. Experimental evolutionary studies will provide direct tests as to when genetic variation is maintained.

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