Evolution of adaptation and mate choice: parental relatedness affects expression of phenotypic variance in a natural population

Kevin P. Oh, Alexander V. Badyaev

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Mating between relatives generally results in reduced offspring viability or quality, suggesting that selection should favor behaviors that minimize inbreeding. However, in natural populations where searching is costly or variation among potential mates is limited, inbreeding is often common and may have important consequences for both offspring fitness and phenotypic variation. In particular, offspring morphological variation often increases with greater parental relatedness, yet the source of this variation, and thus its evolutionary significance, are poorly understood. One proposed explanation is that inbreeding influences a developing organism's sensitivity to its environment and therefore the increased phenotypic variation observed in inbred progeny is due to greater inputs from environmental and maternal sources. Alternatively, changes in phenotypic variation with inbreeding may be due to additive genetic effects alone when heterozygotes are phenotypically intermediate to homozygotes, or effects of inbreeding depression on condition, which can itself affect sensitivity to environmental variation. Here we examine the effect of parental relatedness (as inferred from neutral genetic markers) on heritable and nonheritable components of developmental variation in a wild bird population in which mate choice is often constrained, thereby leading to inbreeding. We found greater morphological variation and distinct contributions of variance components in offspring from highly related parents: inbred offspring tended to have greater environmental and lesser additive genetic variance compared to outbred progeny. The magnitude of this difference was greatest in late-maturing traits, implicating the accumulation of environmental variation as the underlying mechanism. Further, parental relatedness influenced the effect of an important maternal trait (egg size) on offspring development. These results support the hypothesis that inbreeding leads to greater sensitivity of development to environmental variation and maternal effects, suggesting that the evolutionary response to selection will depend strongly on mate choice patterns and population structure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-124
Number of pages14
JournalEvolutionary Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Animal model
  • Developmental stability
  • Environmental variance
  • Genetic complementarity
  • Heritability
  • Heterozygosity
  • Maternal effects


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