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Keywords:

  • G-matrix;
  • evolutionary potential;
  • genetic constraints;
  • matrix rank;
  • P-matrix;
  • sexual dimorphism;
  • wing shape

Evolutionary constraint results from the interaction between the distribution of available genetic variation and the position of selective optima. The availability of genetic variance in multitrait systems, as described by the additive genetic variance–covariance matrix (G), has been the subject of recent attempts to assess the prevalence of genetic constraints. However, evolutionary constraints have not yet been considered from the perspective of the phenotypes available to multivariate selection, and whether genetic variance is present in all phenotypes potentially under selection. Determining the rank of the phenotypic variance–covariance matrix (P) to characterize the phenotypes available to selection, and contrasting it with the rank of G, may provide a general approach to determining the prevalence of genetic constraints. In a study of a laboratory population of Drosophila bunnanda from northern Australia we applied factor-analytic modeling to repeated measures of individual wing phenotypes to determine the dimensionality of the phenotypic space described by P. The phenotypic space spanned by the 10 wing traits had 10 statistically supported dimensions. In contrast, factor-analytic modeling of G estimated for the same 10 traits from a paternal half-sibling breeding design suggested G had fewer dimensions than traits. Statistical support was found for only five and two genetic dimensions, describing a total of 99% and 72% of genetic variance in wing morphology in females and males, respectively. The observed mismatch in dimensionality between P and G suggests that although selection might act to shift the intragenerational population mean toward any trait combination, evolution may be restricted to fewer dimensions.