Stability of genetic variance and covariance for reproductive characters in the face of climate change in a wild bird population


Dany Garant, Fax: +1819 8218049; E-mail:


Global warming has had numerous effects on populations of animals and plants, with many species in temperate regions experiencing environmental change at unprecedented rates. Populations with low potential for adaptive evolutionary change and plasticity will have little chance of persistence in the face of environmental change. Assessment of the potential for adaptive evolution requires the estimation of quantitative genetic parameters, but it is as yet unclear what impact, if any, global warming will have on the expression of genetic variances and covariances. Here we assess the impact of a changing climate on the genetic architecture underlying three reproductive traits in a wild bird population. We use a large, long-term, data set collected on great tits (Parus major) in Wytham Woods, Oxford, and an ‘animal model’ approach to quantify the heritability of, and genetic correlations among, laying date, clutch size and egg mass during two periods with contrasting temperature conditions over a 40-year period (1965–1988 [cooler] vs. 1989–2004 [warmer]). We found significant additive genetic variance and heritability for all traits under both temperature regimes. We also found significant negative genetic covariances and correlations between clutch size and egg weight during both periods, and among laying date and clutch size in the colder years only. The overall G matrix comparison among periods, however, showed only a minor difference among periods, thus suggesting that genotype by environment interactions are negligible in this context. Our results therefore suggest that despite substantial changes in temperature and in mean laying date phenotype over the last decades, and despite the large sample sizes available, we are unable to detect any significant change in the genetic architecture of the reproductive traits studied.