Maternal and additive genetic effects contribute to variation in offspring traits in a lizard

Daniel W.A. Noble*, S. Eryn Mcfarlane, J. Scott Keogh, Martin J. Whiting

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    27 Citations (Scopus)


    Evolutionary responses to selection require that traits have a heritable basis, yet maternal effects (the effect of a mother's phenotype on her offspring's phenotype) can have profound effects on evolutionary processes. It is therefore essential to understand how maternal effects contribute to phenotypic variation in offspring traits and test key assumptions of additive genetic variance in evolutionary models. We measured 5 traits linked to fitness in lizards (endurance, sprint speed, snout-vent length [SVL], mass, and growth rate) and estimated the contribution of additive genetic and maternal effects in explaining variation in these traits in the Eastern water skink (Eulamprus quoyii). We estimated parentage using 6 microsatellite DNA loci from lizards taking part in a mating experiment in large seminatural enclosures and used animal models to partition variance into additive genetic and maternal effects. We found that only endurance was significantly heritable (h 2 = 0.37, 95% credible interval = 0.18-0.50), whereas all other traits were either strongly influenced by maternal effects (mass, sprint speed, SVL, and captive growth rate) or were influenced by environmental variability (wild growth rate). Our study disentangles the relative contributions of additive genetic and maternal effects in contributing to variation in offspring phenotypes and suggests that little additive genetic variance exists for traits often assumed to be heritable. Although the heritability of phenotypic traits is essential in evolutionary models, our results also highlight the important role maternal effects have in explaining variation in phenotypes.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)633-640
    Number of pages8
    JournalBehavioral Ecology
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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