Fecundity is usually considered as a trait closely connected to fitness and is expected to exhibit substantial nonadditive genetic variation and inbreeding depression. However, two independent experiments, using populations of different geographical origin, indicate that early fecundity in Drosophila melanogaster behaves as a typical additive trait of low heritability. The first experiment involved artificial selection in inbred and non-inbred lines, all of them started from a common base population previously maintained in the laboratory for about 35 generations. The realized heritability estimate was 0.151 ± 0.075 and the inbreeding depression was very small and nonsignificant (0.09 ± 0.09% of the non-inbred mean per 1% increase in inbreeding coefficient). With inbreeding, the observed decrease in the within-line additive genetic variance and the corresponding increase of the between-line variance were very close to their expected values for pure additive gene action. This result is at odds with previous studies showing inbreeding depression and, therefore, directional dominance for the same trait and species. All experiments, however, used laboratory populations, and it is possible that the original genetic architecture of the trait in nature was subsequently altered by the joint action of random drift and adaptation to captivity. Thus, we carried out a second experiment, involving inbreeding without artificial selection in a population recently collected from the wild. In this case we obtained, again, a maximum-likelihood heritability estimate of 0.210 ± 0.027 and very little nonsignificant inbreeding depression (0.06 ± 0.12%). The results suggest that, for fitness-component traits, low levels of additive genetic variance are not necessarily associated with large inbreeding depression or high levels of nonadditive genetic variance.
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Vol. 57 • No. 3