The influence of variation and of developmental constraints on the rate of multivariate phenotypic evolution


  • G. P. Wagner

    1. Max-Planck-Institut für Entwicklungsbiologie, Spemannstraße 35, D-7400 Tübingen, West Germany, and Institut für Zoologie der Universität Wien, Althanstraße 14, A-1090 Wien, Austria
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    • Mailing address: Northwestern University, Department of Ecology and Evolution, Evanston, Ill. 60201, USA


A model of multivariate phenotypic evolution is analysed under the assumption that all characters have the same variance or at least constant ratios of variance. The rate of evolution is examined as a function of the amount of phenotypic variance in a variety of adaptive landscapes (fitness functions). It is demonstrated that the effect of variation depends on the type of adaptive landscape. In “well behaved” adaptive landscapes the rate of evolution can theoretically increase without limits, depending on the amount of heritable phenotypic variation. However, in other adaptive landscapes there are upper limits to the rate of evolution which cannot be exceeded if phenotypic variation is developmentally unconstrained, i. e. if it is the same for all characters. Further it is shown that the maximal rate of evolution becomes small if the number of characters becomes large. Fitness functions of this type are called malignant. It is argued that malignant fitness functions are more adequate models for the evolution of typical organismic systems, because they are models of functionally interdependent characters. It is concluded that there are upper limits to the rate of phenotypic evolution if the variation of functionally interdependent characters is developmentally unconstrained. The possible role of developmental constraints in adaptive phenotypic evolution is discussed.