Genetic basis of sexual dimorphism in the threespine stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus

Heredity (Edinb). 2011 Feb;106(2):218-27. doi: 10.1038/hdy.2010.104. Epub 2010 Aug 11.


Sexual dimorphism (SD) in morphological, behavioural and physiological features is common, but the genetics of SD in the wild has seldom been studied in detail. We investigated the genetic basis of SD in morphological traits of threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) by conducting a large breeding experiment with fish from an ancestral marine population that acts as a source of morphological variation. We also examined the patterns of SD in a set of 38 wild populations from different habitats to investigate the relationship between the genetic architecture of SD of the marine ancestral population in relation to variation within and among natural populations. The results show that genetic architecture in terms of heritabilities, additive genetic variances and covariances (as well as correlations) is very similar in the two sexes in spite of the fact that many of the traits express significant SD. Furthermore, population differences in threespine stickleback body shape and armour SD appear to have evolved despite constraints imposed by genetic architecture. This implies that constraints for the evolution of SD imposed by strong genetic correlations are not as severe and absolute as commonly thought.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genetics, Population
  • Male
  • Phenotype
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Quantitative Trait, Heritable
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Smegmamorpha / genetics*