A population's potential for evolutionary change depends on the amount of genetic variability expressed in traits under selection. Studies attempting to measure this variability typically do so over the life span of individuals, but theory suggests that the amount of additive genetic variance can change during the course of individuals' lives. Here we use pedigree data from historical Finns and a quantitative genetic framework to investigate how female fecundity, throughout an individual's reproductive life, is influenced by “maternal” versus additive genetic effects. We show that although maternal effects explain variation in female fecundity early in life, these effects wane with female age. Moreover, this decline in maternal effects is associated with a concomitant increase in additive genetic variance with age. Our results thus highlight that single over-lifetime estimates of trait heritability may give a misleading view of a trait's potential to respond to changing selection pressures.
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Vol. 62 • No. 9