The genetics of adaptive shape shift in stickleback: pleiotropy and effect size

Evolution. 2008 Jan;62(1):76-85. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2007.00259.x. Epub 2007 Nov 12.


The distribution of effect sizes of genes underlying adaptation is unknown (Orr 2005). Are suites of traits that diverged under natural selection controlled by a few pleiotropic genes of large effect (major genes model), by many independently acting genes of small effect (infinitesimal model), or by a combination, with frequency inversely related to effect size (geometric model)? To address this we carried out a quantitative trait loci (QTL) study of a suite of 54 position traits describing body shapes of two threespine stickleback species: an ancestral Pacific marine form and a highly derived benthic species inhabiting a geologically young lake. About half of the 26 detected QTL affected just one coordinate and had small net effects, but several genomic regions affected multiple aspects of shape and had large net effects. The distribution of effect sizes followed the gamma distribution, as predicted by the geometric model of adaptation when detection limits are taken into account. The sex-determining chromosome region had the largest effect of any QTL. Ancestral sexual dimorphism was similar to the direction of divergence, and was largely eliminated during freshwater adaptation, suggesting that sex differences may provide variation upon which selection can act. Several shape QTL are linked to Eda, a major gene responsible for reduction of lateral body armor in freshwater. Our results are consistent with predictions of the geometric model of adaptation. Shape evolution in stickleback results from a few genes with large and possibly widespread effects and multiple genes of smaller effect.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Body Size / genetics*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Hybridization, Genetic
  • Male
  • Quantitative Trait Loci / genetics
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Smegmamorpha / anatomy & histology*
  • Smegmamorpha / genetics*