Patterns of genetic variation and covariation can influence the rate and direction of phenotypic evolution. We explored the possibility that the parallel morphological evolution seen in threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) populations colonizing freshwater environments is facilitated by patterns of genetic variation and covariation in the ancestral (marine) population. We estimated the genetic (G) and phenotypic (P) covariance matrices and directions of maximum additive genetic (g(max) ) and phenotypic (p(max) ) covariances of body shape and armour traits. Our results suggest a role for the ancestral G in explaining parallel morphological evolution in freshwater populations. We also found evidence of genetic constraints owing to the lack of variance in the ancestral G. Furthermore, strong genetic covariances and correlations among traits revealed that selective factors responsible for threespine stickleback body shape and armour divergence may be difficult to disentangle. The directions of g(max) and p(max) were correlated, but the correlations were not high enough to imply that phenotypic patterns of trait variation and covariation within populations are very informative of underlying genetic patterns.
© 2010 The Authors. Journal of Evolutionary Biology © 2010 European Society For Evolutionary Biology.