Genetical Research

Research Article

Evolution of genetic variability in a spatially heterogeneous environment: effects of genotype–environment interaction

Sara Viaa1* and Russell Landea1

a1 Department of Biology, The University of Chicago, 915 East 57th Street, Chicago, IL 60637, USA


Classical population genetic models show that disruptive selection in a spatially variable environment can maintain genetic variation. We present quantitative genetic models for the effects of disruptive selection between environments on the genetic covariance structure of a polygenic trait. Our models suggest that disruptive selection usually does not alter the equilibrium genetic variance, although transient changes are predicted. We view a quantitative character as a set of character states, each expressed in one environment. The genetic correlation between character states expressed in different environments strongly affects the evolution of the genetic variability. (1) If the genetic correlation between character states is not ± 1, then the mean phenotype expressed in each environment will eventually attain the optimum value for that environment; this is the evolution of phenotypic plasticity (Via & Lande, 1985). At the joint phenotypic optimum, there is no disruptive selection between environments and thus no increase in the equilibrium genetic variability over that maintained by a balance between mutation and stabilizing selection within each environment. (2) If, however, the genetic correlation between character states is ± 1, the mean phenotype will not evolve to the joint phenotypic optimum and a persistent force of disruptive selection between environments will increase the equilibrium genetic variance. (3) Numerical analyses of the dynamic equations indicate that the mean phenotype can usually be perturbed several phenotypic standard deviations from the optimum without producing transient changes of more than a few per cent in the genetic variances or correlations. It may thus be reasonable to assume a roughly constant covariance structure during phenotypic evolution unless genetic correlations among character states are extremely high or populations are frequently perturbed. (4) Transient changes in the genetic correlations between character states resulting from disruptive selection act to constrain the evolution of the mean phenotype rather than to facilitate it.

(Received July 17 1986)

(Revised October 29 1986)


* Department of Entomology and Section of Ecology and Systematics, Comstock Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.

† To whom reprint requests should be addressed.