Developmental interactions and the constituents of quantitative variation

Evolution. 2001 Feb;55(2):232-45. doi: 10.1111/j.0014-3820.2001.tb01289.x.


Development is the process by which genotypes are transformed into phenotypes. Consequently, development determines the relationship between allelic and phenotypic variation in a population and, therefore, the patterns of quantitative genetic variation and covariation of traits. Understanding the developmental basis of quantitative traits may lead to insights into the origin and evolution of quantitative genetic variation, the evolutionary fate of populations, and, more generally, the relationship between development and evolution. Herein, we assume a hierarchical, modular structure of trait development and consider how epigenetic interactions among modules during ontogeny affect patterns of phenotypic and genetic variation. We explore two developmental models, one in which the epigenetic interactions between modules result in additive effects on character expression and a second model in which these epigenetic interactions produce nonadditive effects. Using a phenotype landscape approach, we show how changes in the developmental processes underlying phenotypic expression can alter the magnitude and pattern of quantitative genetic variation. Additive epigenetic effects influence genetic variances and covariances, but allow trait means to evolve independently of the genetic variances and covariances, so that phenotypic evolution can proceed without changing the genetic covariance structure that determines future evolutionary response. Nonadditive epigenetic effects, however, can lead to evolution of genetic variances and covariances as the mean phenotype evolves. Our model suggests that an understanding of multivariate evolution can be considerably enriched by knowledge of the mechanistic basis of character development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genotype
  • Growth / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Phenotype