Genetic variation and natural selection on blue tit body condition in different environments
Merilä J., Przybylo R., Sheldon BC.
An increasing amount of evidence indicates that different forms of environmental stress influence the expression of genetic variance in quantitative traits and, consequently, their evolvability. We investigated the causal components of phenotypic variance and natural selection on the body condition index (a trait often related to fitness in wild bird populations) of blue tit (Parus caeruleus) nestlings under contrasting environmental conditions. In three different study years, nestlings grown under a poor feeding regime attained lower body condition than their full-sibs grown under a good feeding regime. Genetic influences on condition were large and significant in both feeding regimes, and in all three study years. However, although estimates of additive genetic variance were consistently higher in the poor than in the good environment, heritability estimates for body condition index were very similar in both environments due to higher levels of environmental variance in the poor environment. Evidence for weak genotype x environment interactions was obtained, but these contributed little to variance in nestling condition. Directional natural selection on fledging condition of nestlings was detected, and there were no indications of year or environmental effects on the form and intensity of selection observed, in a sample of 3659 nestlings over four years. However, selection on fledging condition was very weak (standardized selection gradient, β = 0.027 ± 0.016 SE), suggesting that, in the current population, the large additive genetic component to fledging condition is not particularly surprising. The results of these analyses are contrasted with those obtained for other populations and species with similar life-histories.