We propose a model to analyze a quantitative trait under frequency-dependent disruptive selection. Selection on the trait is a combination of stabilizing selection and intraspecific competition, where competition is maximal between individuals with equal phenotypes. In addition, there is a density-dependent component induced by population regulation. The trait is determined additively by a number of biallelic loci, which can have different effects on the trait value. In contrast to most previous models, we assume that the allelic effects at the loci can evolve due to epistatic interactions with the genetic background. Using a modifier approach, we derive analytical results under the assumption of weak selection and constant population size, and we investigate the full model by numerical simulations. We find that frequency-dependent disruptive selection favors the evolution of a highly asymmetric genetic architecture, where most of the genetic variation is concentrated on a small number of loci. We show that the evolution of genetic architecture can be understood in terms of the ecological niches created by competition. The phenotypic distribution of a population with an adapted genetic architecture closely matches this niche structure. Thus, evolution of the genetic architecture seems to be a plausible way for populations to adapt to regimes of frequency-dependent disruptive selection. As such, it should be seen as a potential evolutionary pathway to discrete polymorphisms and as a potential alternative to other evolutionary responses, such as the evolution of sexual dimorphism or assortative mating.
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Vol. 60 • No. 8