Individual variation in growth trajectories: phenotypic and genetic correlations in ontogeny of the house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)


Alex Badyaev Department of Biological Sciences, 331 Funchess Hall, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849–5414, USA. Tel.: +1 334 844 9268; fax: +1 334 844 9234; e-mail:


We studied patterns of growth in a recently established natural population of the house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) to examine whether phenotypic and genetic covariation among age-specific trait values is likely to constrain morphological change favoured by selection acting on adults. We found variable patterns of allometric relationships during ontogeny, and documented relatively weak covariations among ages or among traits in individual growth trajectories. Frequent compensatory growth largely cancelled out the initial differences among nestlings, potentially enabling house finches to raise offspring under diverse and unpredictable environmental conditions. Moderate levels of additive genetic variance in morphological traits throughout ontogeny, and relatively low and fluctuating phenotypic and genetic covariation among ages imply strong potential for evolutionary change in morphological traits under selection. This conclusion is consistent with the profound population-level divergence in morphological patterns that accompanied very successful colonization of most of North America by the house finch over the last 50 years.