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The role of sexually antagonistic effects in maintaining genetic variation in natural populations


In this project I will investigate the contribution of sexually antagonistic effects to the maintenance of heritable genetic variation in natural populations. Evolutionary theory predicts the depletion of genetic variation by selection, because both natura l and sexual selection should continually favour certain genotypes at the expense of others. Nevertheless, genetic variation is abundant across numerous fitness related traits, suggesting that favourable alleles are not quickly fixed. This leaves us with o ne of the most puzzling, yet largely unresolved paradoxes in evolutionary theory, namely how heritable genetic variance is maintained in natural populations. Theory and recent data from the model system Drosophila suggest that gender specific selection on loci expressed in both sexes (sexual antagonism) may be one of the most important factors maintaining genetic variance for fitness. I will be trained in quantitative genetic methods to investigate the contribution of sexually antagonistic effects to the av erage selection response of various traits in wild populations of Soay sheep (Ovis aries) and red deer (Cervus elaphus). The data sets provided by my collaborators at ICAPB, Univ. Edinburgh, are unparalleled among mammal study populations in the level of d etailed life history, morphometric, and pedigree information. They offer the unique possibility to extrapolate theoretical expectations of how sexually antagonistic effects can counteract the erosion of genetic polymorphism, to the understanding of evoluti onary processes in natural populations. I will apply powerful maximum likelihood analytical techniques (the `animal model¿) to quantify the genetic correlation of fitness between males and females, to test for sexually antagonistic selection and negative g enetic correlations in quantitative traits, and to detect sex linkage of the investigated traits.

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Old College, South Bridge
United Kingdom

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