Studying phenotypic evolution using multivariate quantitative genetics


Katrina McGuigan, Present address: School of Integrative Biology, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld 4072, Australia. Fax: +61-7-3365-1655; E-mail:


Quantitative genetics provides a powerful framework for studying phenotypic evolution and the evolution of adaptive genetic variation. Central to the approach is G, the matrix of additive genetic variances and covariances. G summarizes the genetic basis of the traits and can be used to predict the phenotypic response to multivariate selection or to drift. Recent analytical and computational advances have improved both the power and the accessibility of the necessary multivariate statistics. It is now possible to study the relationships between G and other evolutionary parameters, such as those describing the mutational input, the shape and orientation of the adaptive landscape, and the phenotypic divergence among populations. At the same time, we are moving towards a greater understanding of how the genetic variation summarized by G evolves. Computer simulations of the evolution of G, innovations in matrix comparison methods, and rapid development of powerful molecular genetic tools have all opened the way for dissecting the interaction between allelic variation and evolutionary process. Here I discuss some current uses of G, problems with the application of these approaches, and identify avenues for future research.