• Genetic constraints;
  • independent contrasts;
  • macroevolution;
  • microevolution;
  • Poseidonamicus;
  • variation

Trait variation and covariation are understood to influence the response of populations to natural selection on generational time scales, but their role, if any, in shaping long-term macroevolutionary divergence is still unclear. The present study uses the rich fossil record of the ostracode genus Poseidonamicus to reconstruct in great detail the evolutionary history of a set of landmark-based morphometric characters. This reconstruction included two kinds of evolutionary inferences: ancestor–descendant transitions among populations repeatedly sampled at the same location and divergence between lineages measured as independent contrasts on a phylogeny. This reconstructed history was then used to test if evolutionary changes were concentrated in directions (traits or combinations of traits) with high phenotypic variance. Two different statistics of association between evolution and variation tested the null hypothesis that evolutionary changes occur in random directions with respect to trait variability. The first of these measured the similarity between the directions of evolutionary change and the axis of maximum variance, and the second measured the degree to which evolutionary changes were concentrated in directions of high phenotypic variation. Randomization tests indicated that both kinds of evolutionary inferences (ancestor–descendant and phylogenetic contrasts) occurred preferentially in directions of high phenotypic variance (and close to the axis of maximal variation), suggesting that within-population variation can structure long-term divergence. This effect decayed after a few million years, but at least for one metric, never disappeared completely. These results are consistent with Schluter's genetic constraints model in which evolutionary trajectories on adaptive landscapes are deflected by variation within and covariation among traits.