Heritability, covariation and natural selection on 24 traits of common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) from a field experiment

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This study explored genetic variation and co-variation in multiple functional plant traits. Our goal was to characterize selection, heritabilities and genetic correlations among different types of traits to gain insight into the evolutionary ecology of plant populations and their interactions with insect herbivores. In a field experiment, we detected significant heritable variation for each of 24 traits of Oenothera biennis and extensive genetic covariance among traits. Traits with diverse functions formed several distinct groups that exhibited positive genetic covariation with each other. Genetic variation in life-history traits and secondary chemistry together explained a large proportion of variation in herbivory (r2 = 0.73). At the same time, selection acted on lifetime biomass, life-history traits and two secondary compounds of O. biennis, explaining over 95% of the variation in relative fitness among genotypes. The combination of genetic covariances and directional selection acting on multiple traits suggests that adaptive evolution of particular traits is constrained, and that correlated evolution of groups of traits will occur, which is expected to drive the evolution of increased herbivore susceptibility. As a whole, our study indicates that an examination of genetic variation and covariation among many different types of traits can provide greater insight into the evolutionary ecology of plant populations and plant–herbivore interactions.

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