What is the relationship between genetic or environmental variation and the variation in messenger RNA (mRNA) expression? To address this, microarrays were used to examine the effect of genetic and environmental variation on cardiac mRNA expression for metabolic genes in three groups of Fundulus heteroclitus: (i) individuals sampled in the field (field), (ii) field individuals acclimated for 6 months to laboratory conditions (acclimated), or (iii) individuals bred for 10 successive generations in a laboratory environment (G10). The G10 individuals have significantly less genetic variation than individuals obtained in the field and had a significantly lower variation in mRNA expression across all genes in comparison to the other two groups (P = 0.001). When examining the gene specific variation, 22 genes had variation in expression that was significantly different among groups with lower variation in G10 individuals than in acclimated individuals. Additionally, there were fewer genes with significant differences in expression among G10 individuals vs. either acclimated or field individuals: 66 genes have statistically different levels of expression vs. 107 or 97 for acclimated or field groups. Based on the permutation of the data, these differences in the number of genes with significant differences among individuals within a group are unlikely to occur by chance (P < 0.01). Surprisingly, variation in mRNA expression in field individuals is lower than in acclimated individuals. Relative to the variation among individual within a group, few genes have significant differences in expression among groups (seven, 2.3%) and none of these are different between acclimated and field individuals. The results support the concept that genetic variation affects variation in mRNA expression and also suggests that temporal environmental variation associated with estuarine environments does not increase the variation among individuals or add to the differences among groups.