As organisms age the environment fluctuates, exerting differential selection across ontogeny. In particular, highly seasonal environments expose life stages to often drastically different thermal environments. This developmental variation is particularly striking in organisms with complex life cycles, wherein life history stages also exhibit distinct morphologies, physiologies, and behaviors. Genes acting pleiotropically on thermal responses may produce genetic correlations across ontogeny, constraining the independent evolution of each life stage to their respective thermal environments. To investigate whether developmental genetic correlations constrain the evolution thermal hardiness of the fly Drosophila melanogaster, we applied quantitative genetic analyses to cold hardiness measured in both larvae and adults from isogenic lines of the Drosophila Genetic Reference Panel (DGRP), using survival at stressful low temperatures as the phenotypic metric. Using full genome resequencing data for the DGRP, we also implemented genome-wide association (GWA) analysis using Bayesian Sparse Linear Mixed Models (BSLMMs) to estimate associations between naturally segregating variation and cold hardiness for both larvae and adults. Quantitative genetic analyses revealed no significant genetic correlation for cold hardiness between life stages, suggesting complete genetic decoupling of thermal hardiness across the metamorphic boundary. Both quantitative genetic and GWA analyses suggested that polygenic variation underlies cold hardiness in both stages, and that associated loci largely affected one stage or the other, but not both. However, reciprocal enrichment tests and correlations between BSLMM parameters for each life stage support some shared physiological mechanisms that may reflect common cellular thermal response pathways. Overall, these results suggest no developmental genetic constraints on cold hardiness across metamorphosis in D. melanogaster, an important consideration in evolutionary models of responses to changing climates. Genetic correlations for environmental sensitivity across ontogeny remains largely unexplored in other organisms, thus assessing the generality of genetic decoupling will require further quantitative or population genetic analysis in additional species.
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