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Fitness Sensitivity and the Canalization of Life-History Traits

Stephen C. Stearns and Tadeusz J. Kawecki
Evolution
Vol. 48, No. 5 (Oct., 1994), pp. 1438-1450
DOI: 10.2307/2410238
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2410238
Page Count: 13
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Fitness Sensitivity and the Canalization of Life-History Traits
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Abstract

Canalization is an abstract term that describes unknown developmental mechanisms that reduce phenotypic variation. A trait can be canalized against environmental perturbations (e.g., changes in temperature or nutrient quality), or genetic perturbations (e.g., mutations or recombination); this paper is about genetic canalization. Stabilizing selection should improve the canalization of traits, and the degree of canalization should be positively correlated with the traits' impact on fitness. Experiments testing this idea should measure the canalization of a series of traits whose impact on fitness is known or can be inferred, exclude differences among traits in the number of loci and alleles segregating as an explanation for the pattern of variability found, and distinguish between canalization against genetic and environmental variation. These conditions were met by three experiments within which the variation of fitness components among Drosophila melanogaster lines was measured and among which the genetic contribution to the variation among lines was clearly different. The canalization of the traits increased with their impact on fitness and did not depend on the degree of genetic differences among lines. That the flies used had been transformed by a P-element insert suggests that canalization was also effective against novel genetic variation. The results reported here cannot be explained by the classical hypothesis of reduction in the number of loci segregating for traits with greater impact on fitness and confirm that traits with greater impact on fitness are more strongly canalized. This pattern of canalization reveals an underappreciated role for development in microevolution. There is differential genetic canalization of fitness components in D. melanogaster.

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