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Body size divergence in nine-spined sticklebacks: disentangling additive genetic and maternal effects



Interpopulation differences in body size are of common occurrence in vertebrates, but the relative importance of genetic, maternal, and environmental effects as causes of observed differentiation have seldom been assessed in the wild. Gigantism in pond nine-spined sticklebacks (Pungitius pungitius Linnaeus, 1758) has been repeatedly observed, but the quantitative genetic basis of population divergence in size has remained unstudied. We conducted a common garden experiment – using ‘pure’ and reciprocal crosses between two populations (‘giant’ pond versus ‘normal’ marine) – to test for the relative importance of additive genetic, non-additive genetic, and maternal effects on body size after 11 months of growth in the laboratory. We found that body size difference between the two populations in laboratory conditions owed mainly to additive genetic effects, and only to a minor degree to maternal effects. Furthermore, the weak maternal effects were seen only in the offspring of ‘giant’ mothers, and appeared to be mediated through differences in egg size. Thus, the results suggest that gigantism in pond populations of P. pungitius is based on the effects of additively acting genes, rather than to direct environmental induction, or maternal or non-additive gene action. © 2012 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2012, 107, 521–528.