Natural selection and the heritability of fitness components

Heredity (Edinb). 1987 Oct;59 ( Pt 2):181-97. doi: 10.1038/hdy.1987.113.


The hypothesis that traits closely associated with fitness will generally possess lower heritabilities than traits more loosely connected with fitness is tested using 1120 narrow sense heritability estimates for wild, outbred animal populations, collected from the published record. Our results indicate that life history traits generally possess lower heritabilities than morphological traits, and that the means, medians, and cumulative frequency distributions of behavioural and physiological traits are intermediate between life history and morphological traits. These findings are consistent with popular interpretations of Fisher's (1930, 1958) Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection, and Falconer (1960, 1981), but also indicate that high heritabilities are maintained within natural populations even for traits believed to be under strong selection. It is also found that the heritability of morphological traits is significantly lower for ectotherms than it is for endotherms which may in part be a result of the strong correlation between life history and body size for many ectotherms.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biometry
  • Genetic Variation
  • Invertebrates / genetics
  • Models, Genetic
  • Phylogeny
  • Physical Fitness*
  • Selection, Genetic*
  • Vertebrates / genetics