Genetic variation underlying the expression of a polyphenism


Bruno A. Buzatto, Centre for Evolutionary Biology, School of Animal Biology (M092), The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley 6009, WA, Australia.
Tel.: (+61 8) 64881493; fax: (+61 8) 64881029; e-mail:


Polyphenic traits are widespread and represent a conditional strategy sensitive to environmental cues. The environmentally cued threshold (ET) model considers the switchpoint between alternative phenotypes as a polygenic quantitative trait with normally distributed variation. However, the genetic variation for switchpoints has rarely been explored empirically. Here, we used inbred lines to investigate the genetic variation for the switchpoint in the mite Rhizoglyphus echinopus, in which males are either fighters or scramblers. The conditionality of male dimorphism varied among inbred lines, indicating that there was genetic variation for switchpoints in the base population, as predicted by the ET model. Our results also suggest a mixture between canalized and conditional strategists in R. echinopus. We propose that major genes that canalize morph expression and affect the extent to which a trait can be conditionally expressed could be a feature of the genetic architecture of threshold traits in other taxa.