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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2009 Jun;1168:100-29. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04575.x.

The covariance between genetic and environmental influences across ecological gradients: reassessing the evolutionary significance of countergradient and cogradient variation.

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1
School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York 11794-5000, USA. dconover@notes.cc.sunysb.edu

Abstract

Patterns of phenotypic change across environmental gradients (e.g., latitude, altitude) have long captivated the interest of evolutionary ecologists. The pattern and magnitude of phenotypic change is determined by the covariance between genetic and environmental influences across a gradient. Cogradient variation (CoGV) occurs when covariance is positive: that is, genetic and environmental influences on phenotypic expression are aligned and their joint influence accentuates the change in mean trait value across the gradient. Conversely, countergradient variation (CnGV) occurs when covariance is negative: that is, genetic and environmental influences on phenotypes oppose one another, thereby diminishing the change in mean trait expression across the gradient. CnGV has so far been found in at least 60 species, with most examples coming from fishes, amphibians, and insects across latitudinal or altitudinal gradients. Traits that display CnGV most often involve metabolic compensation, that is, the elevation of various physiological rates processes (development, growth, feeding, metabolism, activity) to counteract the dampening effect of reduced temperature, growing season length, or food supply. Far fewer examples of CoGV have been identified (11 species), and these most often involve morphological characters. Increased knowledge of spatial covariance patterns has furthered our understanding of Bergmann size clines, phenotypic plasticity, species range limits, tradeoffs in juvenile growth rate, and the design of conservation strategies for wild species. Moreover, temporal CnGV explains some cases of an apparent lack of phenotypic response to directional selection and provides a framework for predicting evolutionary responses to climate change.

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