Phenotypic divergence along lines of genetic variance

Am Nat. 2005 Jan;165(1):32-43. doi: 10.1086/426600. Epub 2004 Nov 16.


Natural populations inhabiting the same environment often independently evolve the same phenotype. Is this replicated evolution a result of genetic constraints imposed by patterns of genetic covariation? We looked for associations between directions of morphological divergence and the orientation of the genetic variance-covariance matrix (G) by using an experimental system of morphological evolution in two allopatric nonsister species of rainbow fish. Replicate populations of both Melanotaenia eachamensis and Melanotaenia duboulayi have independently adapted to lake versus stream hydrodynamic environments. The major axis of divergence (z) among all eight study populations was closely associated with the direction of greatest genetic variance (gmax), suggesting directional genetic constraint on evolution. However, the direction of hydrodynamic adaptation was strongly associated with vectors of G describing relatively small proportions of the total genetic variance, and was only weakly associated with gmax. In contrast, divergence between replicate populations within each habitat was approximately proportional to the level of genetic variance, a result consistent with theoretical predictions for neutral phenotypic divergence. Divergence between the two species was also primarily along major eigenvectors of G. Our results therefore suggest that hydrodynamic adaptation in rainbow fish was not directionally constrained by the dominant eigenvector of G. Without partitioning divergence as a consequence of the adaptation of interest (here, hydrodynamic adaptation) from divergence due to other processes, empirical studies are likely to overestimate the potential for the major eigenvectors of G to directionally constrain adaptive evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Female
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Locomotion / genetics
  • Locomotion / physiology
  • Male
  • Phenotype*
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Smegmamorpha / anatomy & histology
  • Smegmamorpha / genetics*