Levels of genetic polymorphism: marker loci versus quantitative traits

R. K. Butlin, T. Tregenza

Abstract

Species are the units used to measure ecological diversity and alleles are the units of genetic diversity. Genetic variation within and among species has been documented most extensively using allozyme electrophoresis. This reveals wide differences in genetic variability within, and genetic distances among, species, demonstrating that species are not equivalent units of diversity. The extent to which the pattern observed for allozymes can be used to infer patterns of genetic variation in quantitative traits depends on the forces generating and maintaining variability. Allozyme variation is probably not strictly neutral but, nevertheless, heterozygosity is expected to be influenced by population size and genetic distance will be affected by time since divergence. The same is true for quantitative traits influenced by many genes and under weak stabilizing selection. However, the limited data available suggest that allozyme variability is a poor predictor of genetic variation in quantitative traits within populations. It is a better predictor of general phenotypic divergence and of postzygotic isolation between populations or species, but is only weakly correlated with prezygotic isolation. Studies of grasshopper and planthopper mating signal variation and assortative mating illustrate how these characters evolve independently of general genetic and morphological variation. The role of such traits in prezygotic isolation, and hence speciation, means that they will contribute significantly to the diversity of levels of genetic variation within and among species.

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