Comparing evolvability and variability of quantitative traits.
D Houle


There are two distinct reasons for making comparisons of genetic variation for quantitative characters. The first is to compare evolvabilities, or ability to respond to selection, and the second is to make inferences about the forces that maintain genetic variability. Measures of variation that are standardized by the trait mean, such as the additive genetic coefficient of variation, are appropriate for both purposes. Variation has usually been compared as narrow sense heritabilities, but this is almost always an inappropriate comparative measure of evolvability and variability. Coefficients of variation were calculated from 842 estimates of trait means, variances and heritabilities in the literature. Traits closely related to fitness have higher additive genetic and nongenetic variability by the coefficient of variation criterion than characters under weak selection. This is the reverse of the accepted conclusion based on comparisons of heritability. The low heritability of fitness components is best explained by their high residual variation. The high additive genetic and residual variability of fitness traits might be explained by the great number of genetic and environmental events they are affected by, or by a lack of stabilizing selection to reduce their phenotypic variance. Over one-third of the quantitative genetics papers reviewed did not report trait means or variances. Researchers should always report these statistics, so that measures of variation appropriate to a variety of situations may be calculated.