Michael Turelli


Previous mathematical analyses of mutation-selection balance for metric traits assume that selection acts on the relevant loci only through the character(s) under study. Thus, they implicitly assume that all of the relevant mutation and selection parameters are estimable. A more realistic analysis must recognize that many of the pleiotropic effects of loci contributing variation to a given character are not known. To explore the consequences of these hidden effects, I analyze models of two pleiotropically connected polygenic traits, denoted P1 and P2. The actual equilibrium genetic variance for P1, based on complete knowledge of all mutation and selection parameters for both P1 and P2, can be compared to a prediction based solely on observations of P1. This extrapolation mimics empirically obtainable predictions because of the inevitability of unknown pleiotropic effects. The mutation parameters relevant to P1 are assumed to be known, but selection intensity is estimated from the within-generation reduction of phenotypic variance for P1. The extrapolated prediction is obtained by substituting these parameters into formulas based on single-character analyses. Approximate analytical and numerical results show that the level of agreement between these univariate extrapolations and the actual equilibrium variance depends critically on both the genetic model assumed and the relative magnitudes of the mutation and selection parameters. Unless per locus mutation rates are extremely high, i.e., generally greater than 10-4, the widely used gaussian approximation for genetic effects at individual loci is not applicable. Nevertheless, the gaussian approximations predict that the true and extrapolated equilibria are in reasonable agreement, i.e., within a factor of two, over a wide range of parameter values. In contrast, an alternative approximation that applies for moderate and low per locus mutation rates predicts that the extrapolation will generally overestimate the true equilibrium variance unless there is little selection associated with hidden effects. The tendency to overestimate is understandable because selection acts on all of the pleiotropic manifestations of a new mutation, but equilibrium covariances among the characters affected may not reveal all of this selection. This casts doubt on the proposal that much of the additive polygenic variance observed in natural populations can be explained by mutation-selection balance. It also indicates the difficulty of critically evaluating this hypothesis.

  • Received October 10, 1984.
  • Accepted May 14, 1985.