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Keywords:

  • complex trait analysis;
  • genetic architecture;
  • genotype–phenotype map;
  • pedigreed wild populations;
  • quantitative trait loci;
  • standing genetic variation

A considerable challenge in evolutionary genetics is to understand the genetic mechanisms that facilitate or impede evolutionary adaptation in natural populations. For this, we must understand the genetic loci contributing to trait variation and the selective forces acting on them. The decreased costs and increased feasibility of obtaining genotypic data on a large number of individuals have greatly facilitated gene mapping in natural populations, particularly because organisms whose genetics have been historically difficult to study are now within reach. Here we review the methods available to evolutionary ecologists interested in dissecting the genetic basis of traits in natural populations. Our focus lies on standing genetic variation in outbred populations. We present an overview of the current state of research in the field, covering studies on both plants and animals. We also draw attention to particular challenges associated with the discovery of quantitative trait loci and discuss parallels to studies on crops, livestock, and humans. Finally, we point to some likely future developments in genetic mapping studies.