Evolution of genetic variance during adaptive radiation

Greg M. Walter, J. David Aguirre, Mark W. Blows, Daniel Ortiz-Barrientos

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28 Citations (Scopus)


Genetic correlations between traits can concentrate genetic variance into fewer phenotypic dimensions that can bias evolutionary trajectories along the axis of greatest genetic variance and away from optimal phenotypes, constraining the rate of evolution. If genetic correlations limit adaptation, rapid adaptive divergence between multiple contrasting environments may be difficult. However, if natural selection increases the frequency of rare alleles after colonization of new environments, an increase in genetic variance in the direction of selection can accelerate adaptive divergence. Here, we explored adaptive divergence of an Australian native wildflower by examining the alignment between divergence in phenotype mean and divergence in genetic variance among four contrasting ecotypes. We found divergence in mean multivariate phenotype along two major axes represented by different combinations of plant architecture and leaf traits. Ecotypes also showed divergence in the level of genetic variance in individual traits and the multivariate distribution of genetic variance among traits. Divergence in multivariate phenotypic mean aligned with divergence in genetic variance, with much of the divergence in phenotype among ecotypes associated with changes in trait combinations containing substantial levels of genetic variance. Overall, our results suggest that natural selection can alter the distribution of genetic variance underlying phenotypic traits, increasing the amount of genetic variance in the direction of natural selection and potentially facilitating rapid adaptive divergence during an adaptive radiation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E108-E128
Number of pages21
JournalThe American Naturalist
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Adaptive radiation
  • Additive genetic variance
  • Covariance tensor
  • Genetic constraint
  • Phenotypic divergence

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