The distribution of fitness effects in an uncertain world

Evolution. 2015 Jun;69(6):1610-1618. doi: 10.1111/evo.12673. Epub 2015 May 19.


The distribution of fitness effects (DFE) among new mutations plays a critical role in adaptive evolution and the maintenance of genetic variation. Although fitness landscape models predict several key features of the DFE, most theory to date focuses on predictable environmental conditions, while ignoring stochastic environmental fluctuations that feature prominently in the ecology of many organisms. Here, we derive an extension of Fisher's geometric model that incorporates two common effects of environmental variation: (1) nonadaptive genotype-by-environment interactions (G × E), in which the phenotype of a given genotype varies across environmental contexts; and (2) random fluctuation of the fitness optimum, which generates fluctuating selection. We show that both factors cause a mismatch between the DFE within single generations and the distribution of geometric mean fitness effects (averaged over multiple generations) that governs long-term evolutionary change. Such mismatches permit strong evolutionary constraints-despite an abundance of beneficial fitness variation within single environmental contexts-and to conflicting DFE estimates from direct versus indirect inference methods. Finally, our results suggest an intriguing parallel between the genetics and ecology of evolutionary constraints, with environmental fluctuations and pleiotropy placing qualitatively similar limits on the availability of adaptive genetic variation.

Keywords: Adaptation; fitness; genetic variation; mutations; pleiotropy; trade-offs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Environment*
  • Genetic Fitness*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutation
  • Phenotype