Indirect genetic effects from ecological interactions in Arabidopsis thaliana


Jason B. Wolf, Fax: +44 (0)161-275-1491; E-mail:


Indirect genetic effects arise when genes expressed in one individual affect the expression of traits in other individuals. The importance of indirect genetic effects has been recognized for a diversity of evolutionary processes including kin selection, sexual selection, community structure and multilevel selection, but data regarding their genetic architecture and prevalence throughout the genome remain scarce, especially for interactions between unrelated individuals. Using a set of 411 Bay-0 × Shahdara Arabidopsis recombinant inbred lines grown with Landsberg neighbours, we examined quantitative trait loci (QTL) having direct and indirect effects on size, developmental, and fitness related traits. Using an interval mapping approach, we identified 15 QTL with direct effects and found that 13 of these QTL had significant indirect effects on trait expression in neighbouring plants. These results suggest widespread pleiotropy, as nearly all direct effect QTL have associated pleiotropic indirect effects. Paradoxically, most indirect effects were of the same sign as direct effects, creating a pattern of nearly universal positive pleiotropy that makes most covariances between direct and indirect effects positive. These results are consistent with a complex genetic basis for intraspecific interactions, but suggest that interactions between neighbouring plants are largely positive, rather than negative as would be expected for competition. In addition to their evolutionary and ecological importance, these pleiotropic relationships between DGE and IGE loci have implications for quantitative genetic studies of natural populations as well as experimental design considerations. Additionally, studies that ignore IGEs may over- or underestimate quantitative genetic parameters, as well as the effect of and variance contributed by QTL.