Rapid independent trait evolution despite a strong pleiotropic genetic correlation

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The American Naturalist




Genetic correlations are the most commonly studied of all potential constraints on adaptive evolution. We present a comprehensive test of constraints caused by genetic correlation, comparing empirical results to predictions from theory. The additive genetic correlation between the filament and the corolla tube in wild radish flowers is very high in magnitude, is estimated with good precision ( ), and is caused by pleiotropy. Thus, evolutionary changes in the relative lengths of these two traits should be constrained. Still, artificial selection produced rapid evolution of these traits in opposite directions, so that in one replicate relative to controls, the difference between them increased by six standard deviations in only nine generations. This would result in a 54% increase in relative fitness on the basis of a previous estimate of natural selection in this population, and it would produce the phenotypes found in the most extreme species in the family Brassicaceae in less than 100 generations. These responses were within theoretical expectations and were much slower than if the genetic correlation was zero; thus, there was evidence for constraint. These results, coupled with comparable results from other species, show that evolution can be rapid despite the constraints caused by genetic correlations.