The coadaptation of parental and offspring characters

Jason B. Wolf, Edmund D. Brodie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

169 Citations (SciVal)


Parents often have important influences on their offspring's traits and/or fitness (i.e., maternal or paternal effects). When offspring fitness is determined by the joint influences of offspring and parental traits, selection may favor particular combinations that generate high offspring fitness. We show that this epistasis for fitness between the parental and offspring genotypes can result in the evolution of their joint distribution, generating genetic correlations between the parental and offspring characters. This phenomenon can be viewed as a coadaptive process in which offspring genotypes evolve to function with the parentally provided environment and, in turn, the genes for this environment become associated with specific offspring genes adapted to it. To illustrate this point, we present two scenarios in which selection on offspring alone alters the correlation between a maternal and an offspring character. We use a quantitative genetic maternal effect model combined with a simple quadratic model of fitness to examine changes in the linkage disequilibrium between the maternal and offspring genotypes. In the first scenario, stabilizing selection on a maternally affected offspring character results in a genetic correlation that is opposite in sign to the maternal effect. In the second scenario, directional selection on an offspring trait that shows a nonadditive maternal effect can result in selection for positive covariances between the traits. This form of selection also results in increased genetic variation in maternal and offspring characters, and may, in the extreme case, promote host-race formation or speciation. This model provides a possible evolutionary explanation for the ubiquity of large genetic correlations between maternal and offspring traits, and suggests that this pattern of coinheritance may reflect functional relationships between these characters (i.e., functional integration).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-308
Number of pages10
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 1998


  • Correlational selection
  • Epistasis
  • Genetic correlation
  • Genetic integration
  • Indirect genetic effects
  • Kin effects
  • Maternal effects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'The coadaptation of parental and offspring characters'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this