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Biol Lett. 2011 Dec 23;7(6):896-8. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.0409. Epub 2011 Jun 8.

Explaining the heritability of an ecologically significant trait in terms of individual quantitative trait loci.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045, USA.


Most natural populations display substantial genetic variation in behaviour, morphology, physiology, life history and the susceptibility to disease. A major challenge is to determine the contributions of individual loci to variation in complex traits. Quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping has identified genomic regions affecting ecologically significant traits of many species. In nearly all cases, however, the importance of these QTLs to population variation remains unclear. In this paper, we apply a novel experimental method to parse the genetic variance of floral traits of the annual plant Mimulus guttatus into contributions of individual QTLs. We first use QTL-mapping to identify nine loci and then conduct a population-based breeding experiment to estimate V(Q), the genetic variance attributable to each QTL. We find that three QTLs with moderate effects explain up to one-third of the genetic variance in the natural population. Variation at these loci is probably maintained by some form of balancing selection. Notably, the largest effect QTLs were relatively minor in their contribution to heritability.

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