Functional genetics of intraspecific ecological interactions in Arabidopsis thaliana

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Studying the genetic basis of traits involved in ecological interactions is a fundamental part of elucidating the connections between evolutionary and ecological processes. Such knowledge allows one to link genetic models of trait evolution with ecological models describing interactions within and between species. Previous work has shown that connections between genetic and ecological processes in Arabidopsis thaliana may be mediated by the fact that quantitative trait loci (QTL) with 'direct' effects on traits of individuals also have pleiotropic 'indirect' effects on traits expressed in neighbouring plants. Here, we further explore these connections by examining functional relationships between traits affected directly and indirectly by the same QTL. We develop a novel approach using structural equation models (SEMs) to determine whether observed pleiotropic effects result from traits directly affected by the QTL in focal individuals causing the changes in the neighbours' phenotypes. This hypothesis was assessed using SEMs to test whether focal plant phenotypes appear to mediate the connection between the focal plants' genotypes and the phenotypes of their neighbours, or alternatively, whether the connection between the focal plants' genotypes and the neighbours' phenotypes is mediated by unmeasured traits. We implement this analysis using a QTL of major effect that maps to the well-characterized flowering locus, FRIGIDA. The SEMs support the hypothesis that the pleiotropic indirect effects of this locus arise from size and developmental timing-related traits in focal plants affecting the expression of developmental traits in their neighbours. Our findings provide empirical insights into the genetics and nature of intraspecific ecological interactions. Our technique holds promise in directing future work into the genetic basis and functional relationship of traits mediating and responding to ecological interactions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1358-1367
Number of pages10
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B - Biological Sciences
Issue number1569
Publication statusPublished - 12 May 2011


  • pleiotropy
  • structural equation models
  • indirect genetic effects
  • intraspecific interactions
  • competition


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