A multivariate analysis of genetic constraints to life history evolution in a wild population of red deer

Craig Walling, Michael Blair Morrissey, Katharina Foerster, Tim Clutton-Brock, Josephine Pemberton, Loeske Kruuk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Evolutionary theory predicts that genetic constraints should be widespread, but empirical support for their existence is surprisingly rare. Commonly applied univariate and bivariate approaches to detecting genetic constraints can underestimate their prevalence, with important aspects potentially tractable only within a multivariate framework. However, multivariate genetic analyses of data from natural populations are challenging because of modest sample sizes, incomplete pedigrees, and missing data. Here we present results from a study of a comprehensive set of life history traits (juvenile survival, age at first breeding, annual fecundity, and longevity) for both males and females in a wild, pedigreed, population of red deer (Cervus elaphus). We use factor analytic modeling of the genetic variance–covariance matrix (G) to reduce the dimensionality of the problem and take a multivariate approach to estimating genetic constraints. We consider a range of metrics designed to assess the effect of G on the deflection of a predicted response to selection away from the direction of fastest adaptation and on the evolvability of the traits. We found limited support for genetic constraint through genetic covariances between traits, both within sex and between sexes. We discuss these results with respect to other recent findings and to the problems of estimating these parameters for natural populations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1735-1749
Number of pages15
Issue number4
Early online date2 Oct 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2014


  • Genetic correlations
  • Life history trade-off
  • Heritability
  • Sexual antagonism
  • Selection


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