Genetic architecture of life history traits and environment-specific trade-offs


Cynthia Weinig, Fax: +1 307 766 2851; E-mail:


Life history theory predicts the evolution of trait combinations that enhance fitness, and the occurrence of trade-offs depends in part on the magnitude of variation in growth rate or acquisition. Using recombinant inbred lines, we examined the genetic architecture of age and size at reproduction across abiotic conditions encountered by cultivars and naturalized populations of Brassica rapa. We found that genotypes are plastic to seasonal setting, such that reproduction was accelerated under conditions encountered by summer annual populations and genetic variances for age at reproduction varied across simulated seasonal settings. Using an acquisition–allocation model, we predicted the likelihood of trade-offs. Consistent with predicted relationships, we observed a trade-off where early maturity is associated with small size at maturity under simulated summer and fall annual conditions but not under winter annual conditions. The trade-off in the summer annual setting was observed despite significant genotypic variation in growth rate, which is often expected to decouple age and size at reproduction because rapidly growing genotypes could mature early and attain a larger size relative to slowly growing genotypes that mature later. The absence of a trade-off in the winter setting is presumably attributable to the absence of genotypic differences in age at reproduction. We observed QTL for age at reproduction that jointly regulated size at reproduction in both the summer and fall annual settings, but these QTL were environment-specific (i.e. different QTL contributed to the trade-off in the fall vs. summer annual settings). Thus, at least some of the genetic mechanisms underlying observed trade-offs differed across environments.