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Although there is substantial evidence that skeletal measures of body size are heritable in wild animal populations, it is frequently assumed that the nonskeletal component of body weight (or 'condition') is determined primarily by environmental factors, in particular nutritional state. We tested this assumption by quantifying the genetic and environmental components of variance in fledgling body condition index (= relative body weight) in a natural population of collared flycatchers (Ficedula albicollis), and compared the strength of natural selection on individual breeding values with that on phenotypic values. A mixed model analysis of the components of variance, based on an 'animal model' and using 18 years of data on 17 717 nestlings, revealed a significant additive genetic component of variance in body condition, which corresponded to a narrow sense heritability (h2) of 0.30 (SE = 0.03). Nongenetic contributions to variation in body condition were large, but there was no evidence of dominance variance nor of contributions from early maternal or common environment effects (pre-manipulation environment) in condition at fledging. Comparison of pre- and post-selection samples revealed virtually identical h2of body condition index, despite the fact that there was a significant decrease (35%) in the levels of additive genetic variance from fledging to breeding. The similar h2in the two samples occurred because the environmental component of variance was also reduced by selection, suggesting that natural selection was acting on both genotypic and environmental variation. The effects of selection on genetic variance were confirmed by calculation of the selection differentials for both phenotypic values and best linear unbiased predictor (BLUP) estimates of breeding values: there was positive directional selection on condition index both at the phenotypic and the genotypic level. The significant h2of body condition index is consistent with data from human and rodent populations showing significant additive genetic variance in relative body mass and adiposity, but contrasts with the common assumption in ecology that body condition refects an individual's nongenetic nutritional state. Furthermore, the substantial reduction in the additive genetic component of variance in body condition index suggests that selection on environmental deviations cannot alone explain the maintenance of additive genetic variation in heritable traits, but that other mechanisms are needed to explain the moderate to high heritabilities of traits under consistent and strong directional selection.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Evolutionary Biology

Publication Date





918 - 929