Variation in seed characters in Nemophila menziesii: Evidence of a genetic basis for maternal effect

Diane L. Byers, Gerrit A.J. Platenkamp, Ruth G. Shaw

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67 Scopus citations


A growing body of evidence indicates that phenotypic selection on juvenile traits of both plants and animals may be considerable. Because juvenile traits are typically subject to maternal effects and often have low heritabilities, adaptive responses to natural selection on these traits may seem unlikely. To determine the potential for evolutionary response to selection on juvenile traits of Nemophila menziesii (Hydrophyllaceae), we conducted two quantitative genetic studies. A reciprocal factorial cross, involving 16 parents and 1960 progeny, demonstrated a significant maternal component of variance in seed mass and additive genetic component of variance in germination time. This experiment also suggested that interaction between parents, though small, provides highly significant contributions to the variance of both traits. Such a parental interaction could arise by diverse mechanisms, including dependence of nuclear gene expression on cytoplasmic genotype, but the design of this experiment could not distinguish this from other possible causes, such as effects on progeny phenotype of interaction between the environmental conditions of both parents. The second experiment, spanning three generations with over 11,000 observations, was designed for investigation of the additive genetic variance in maternal effect, assessment of paternal effects, as well as further partitioning of the parental interaction identified in the reciprocal factorial experiment. It yielded no consistent evidence of paternal effects on seed mass, nor of parental interactions. Our inference of such interaction effects from the first experiment was evidently an artifact of failing to account for the substantial variance among fruits within crosses. The maternal effect was found to have a large additive genetic component, accounting for at least 20% of the variation in individual seed mass. This result suggests that there is appreciable potential for response to selection on seed mass through evolution of the maternal effect. We discuss aspects that may nevertheless limit response to individual selection on seed mass, including trade-offs between the size of individual seeds and germination time and between the number of seeds a maternal plant can mature and their mean size.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1445-1456
Number of pages12
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1997


  • Bio model
  • Diallel
  • Germination time
  • Juvenile traits
  • Maternal effects
  • Maximum likelihood
  • Quantitative genetics
  • Seed mass


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