Genetic differentiation of neutral markers and quantitative traits in predominantly selfing metapopulations: confronting theory and experiments with Arabidopsis thaliana

Genet Res. 2006 Feb;87(1):1-12. doi: 10.1017/S0016672306007920.


The comparison of the genetic differentiation of quantitative traits (QST) and molecular markers (FST) can inform on the strength and spatial heterogeneity of selection in natural populations, provided that markers behave neutrally. However, selection may influence the behaviour of markers in selfing species with strong linkage disequilibria among loci, therefore invalidating this test of detection of selection. We address this issue by monitoring the genetic differentiation of five microsatellite loci (FST) and nine quantitative traits (QST) in experimental metapopulations of the predominantly selfing species Arabidopsis thaliana, that evolved during eight generations. Metapopulations differed with respect to population size and selection heterogeneity. In large populations, the genetic differentiation of neutral microsatellites was much larger under heterogeneous selection than under uniform selection. Using simulations, we show that this influence of selection heterogeneity on FST can be attributable to initial linkage disequilibria among loci, creating stronger genetic differentiation of QTL than expected under a simple additive model with no initial linkage. We found no significant differences between FST and QST regardless of selection heterogeneity, despite a demonstrated effect of selection on QST values. Additional data are required to validate the role of mating system and linkage disequilibria in the joint evolution of neutral and selected genetic differentiation, but our results suggest that FST/QST comparisons can be conservative tests to detect selection in selfing species.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arabidopsis / classification
  • Arabidopsis / genetics*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Genes, Plant*
  • Genetic Markers
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Linkage Disequilibrium
  • Microsatellite Repeats
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Genetic
  • Quantitative Trait Loci*
  • Selection, Genetic


  • Genetic Markers