A General Definition of the Heritable Variation that Determines the Potential of a Population to Respond to Selection

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Genetic selection is a major force shaping life on earth. In classical genetic theory, response to selection is the product of the strength of selection and the additive genetic variance in a trait. The additive genetic variance reflects a population’s intrinsic potential to respond to selection. The ordinary additive genetic variance, however, ignores the social organization of life. With social interactions among individuals, individual trait values may depend on genes in others, a phenomenon known as indirect genetic effects. Models accounting for indirect genetic effects, however, lack a general definition of heritable variation. Here I propose a general definition of the heritable variation that determines the potential of a population to respond to selection. This generalizes the concept of heritable variance to any inheritance model and level of organization. The result shows that heritable variance determining potential response to selection is the variance among individuals in the heritable quantity that determines the population mean trait value, rather than the usual additive genetic component of phenotypic variance. It follows, therefore, that heritable variance may exceed phenotypic variance among individuals, which is impossible in classical theory. This work also provides a measure of the utilization of heritable variation for response to selection and integrates two well-known models of maternal genetic effects. The result shows that relatedness between the focal individual and the individuals affecting its fitness is a key determinant of the utilization of heritable variance for response to selection
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1347-1359
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • social evolution
  • interacting phenotypes
  • multilevel selection
  • biological groups
  • traits
  • individuals
  • characters
  • microorganisms
  • adaptation
  • covariance


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