Sexual variation in heritability and genetic correlations of morphological traits in house sparrow (Passer domesticus)

H. Jensen*, B. E. Sæther, T. H. Ringsby, J. Tufto, S. C. Griffith, H. Ellegren

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

161 Citations (Scopus)


Estimates of genetic components are important for our understanding of how individual characteristics are transferred between generations. We show that the level of heritability varies between 0.12 and 0.68 in six morphological traits in house sparrows (Passer domesticus L.) in northern Norway. Positive and negative genetic correlations were present among traits, suggesting evolutionary constraints on the evolution of some of these characters. A sexual difference in the amount of heritable genetic variation was found in tarsus length, wing length, bill depth and body condition index, with generally higher heritability in females. In addition, the structure of the genetic variance-covariance matrix for the traits differed between the sexes. Genetic correlations between males and females for the morphological traits were however large and not significantly different from one, indicating that sex-specific responses to selection will be influenced by intersexual differences in selection differentials. Despite this, some traits had heritability above 0.1 in females, even after conditioning on the additive genetic covariance between sexes and the additive genetic variances in males. Moreover, a meta-analysis indicated that higher heritability in females than in males may be common in birds. Thus, this indicates sexual differences in the genetic architecture of birds. Consequently, as in house sparrows, the evolutionary responses to selection will often be larger in females than males. Hence, our results suggest that sex-specific additive genetic variances and covariances, although ignored in most studies, should be included when making predictions of evolutionary changes from standard quantitative genetic models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1296-1307
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Genetic correlation
  • Heritability
  • House sparrow
  • Morphology
  • Passer domesticus
  • Sexual variation


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