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Keywords:

  • Heritability;
  • lemon shark;
  • maternal effects;
  • morphological traits;
  • power and sensitivity analysis;
  • sibship reconstruction

Estimating quantitative genetic parameters ideally takes place in natural populations, but relatively few studies have overcome the inherent logistical difficulties. For this reason, no estimates currently exist for the genetic basis of life-history traits in natural populations of large marine vertebrates. And yet such estimates are likely to be important given the exposure of this taxon to changing selection pressures, and the relevance of life-history traits to population productivity. We report such estimates from a long-term (1995–2007) study of lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris) conducted at Bimini, Bahamas. We obtained these estimates by genetically reconstructing a population pedigree (117 dams, 487 sires, and 1351 offspring) and then using an “animal model” approach to estimate quantitative genetic parameters. We find significant additive genetic (co)variance, and hence moderate heritability, for juvenile length and mass. We also find substantial maternal effects for these traits at age-0, but not age-1, confirming that genotype–phenotype interactions between mother and offspring are strongest at birth; although these effects could not be parsed into their genetic and nongenetic components. Our results suggest that human-imposed selection pressures (e.g., size-selective harvesting) might impose noteworthy evolutionary change even in large marine vertebrates. We therefore use our findings to explain how maternal effects may sometimes promote maladaptive juvenile traits, and how lemon sharks at different nursery sites may show “constrained local adaptation.” We also show how single-generation pedigrees, and even simple marker-based regression methods, can provide accurate estimates of quantitative genetic parameters in at least some natural systems.