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Trends Ecol Evol. 1987 Feb;2(2):35-8. doi: 10.1016/0169-5347(87)90096-6.

The heritability of fitness: Bad news for 'good genes'?

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Department of Genetics and Biometry, University College London, London NW1 2HE, UK.


Some models of sexual selection depend on a female preference for 'good genes': females choose conspicuous males as these are advertising their possession of genes for fitness characters which can be inherited by their offspring. In contrast, Fisher's fundamental theorem of natural selection - which underlies much of population genetics theory - predicts that in a population at equilibrium there can be no additive genetic variation in fitness. Recent work on collared flycatchers in the wild shows that characters influencing fitness do indeed have a relatively low heritability. However, other studies of the inheritance of fitness in the laboratory suggest that under some circumstances a population may retain considerable genetic diversity for fitness characters. Genetically based female choice might hence have the potential to control the evolution of male sexual ornaments. More work on natural populations is needed; and birds may be a good place to start looking.

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