Comparative studies of quantitative trait and neutral marker divergence: a meta-analysis

J Evol Biol. 2008 Jan;21(1):1-17. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2007.01445.x. Epub 2007 Nov 17.


Comparative studies of quantitative genetic and neutral marker differentiation have provided means for assessing the relative roles of natural selection and random genetic drift in explaining among-population divergence. This information can be useful for our fundamental understanding of population differentiation, as well as for identifying management units in conservation biology. Here, we provide comprehensive review and meta-analysis of the empirical studies that have compared quantitative genetic (Q(ST)) and neutral marker (F(ST)) differentiation among natural populations. Our analyses confirm the conclusion from previous reviews - based on ca. 100% more data - that the Q(ST) values are on average higher than F(ST) values [mean difference 0.12 (SD 0.27)] suggesting a predominant role for natural selection as a cause of differentiation in quantitative traits. However, although the influence of trait (life history, morphological and behavioural) and marker type (e.g. microsatellites and allozymes) on the variance of the difference between Q(ST) and F(ST) is small, there is much heterogeneity in the data attributable to variation between specific studies and traits. The latter is understandable as there is no reason to expect that natural selection would be acting in similar fashion on all populations and traits (except for fitness itself). We also found evidence to suggest that Q(ST) and F(ST) values across studies are positively correlated, but the significance of this finding remains unclear. We discuss these results in the context of utility of the Q(ST)-F(ST) comparisons as a tool for inferring natural selection, as well as associated methodological and interpretational problems involved with individual and meta-analytic studies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genetic Drift*
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Quantitative Trait, Heritable*
  • Selection, Genetic*