Maternal effects and the potential for evolution in a natural population of animals

Evolution. 2002 Apr;56(4):846-51. doi: 10.1111/j.0014-3820.2002.tb01396.x.


Maternal effects are widespread and can have dramatic influences on evolutionary dynamics, but their genetic basis has been measured rarely in natural populations. We used cross-fostering techniques and a long-term study of a natural population of red squirrels, Tamiasciurus hudsonicus, to estimate both direct (heritability) and indirect (maternal) influences on the potential for evolution. Juvenile growth in both body mass and size had significant amounts of genetic variation (mass h(2) = 0.10; size h(2) = 0.33), but experienced large, heritable maternal effects. Growth in body mass also had a large positive covariance between direct and maternal genetic effects. The consideration of these indirect genetic effects revealed a greater than three-fold increase in the potential for evolution of growth in body mass (h(2)t = 0.36) relative to that predicted by heritability alone. Simple heritabilities, therefore, may severely underestimate or overestimate the potential for evolution in natural populations of animals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Body Weight
  • Environment
  • Female
  • Genetic Variation
  • Maternal Behavior / physiology*
  • Phenotype
  • Sciuridae / genetics
  • Sciuridae / physiology*