The evolutionary genetics of an adaptive maternal effect: Egg size plasticity in a seed beetle

Charles W. Fox, Mary Ellen Czesak, Timothy A. Mousseau, Derek A. Roff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


In many organisms, a female's environment provides a reliable indicator of the environmental conditions that her progeny will encounter. In such cases, maternal effects may evolve as mechanisms for transgenerational phenotypic plasticity whereby, in response to a predictive environmental cue, a mother can change the type of eggs that she makes or can program a developmental switch in her offspring, which produces offspring prepared for the environmental conditions predicted by the cue. One potentially common mechanism by which females manipulate the phenotype of their progeny is egg size plasticity, in which females vary egg size in response to environmental cues. We describe an experiment in which we quantify genetic variation in egg size and egg size plasticity in a seed beetle, Stator limbatus, and measure the genetic constraints on the evolution of egg size plasticity, quantified as the genetic correlation between the size of eggs laid across host plants. We found that genetic variation is present within populations for the size of eggs laid on seeds of two host plants (Acacia greggii and Cercidium floridum; h2 ranged between 0.217 and 0.908), and that the heritability of egg size differed between populations and hosts (higher on A. greggii than on C. floridum). We also found that the evolution of egg size plasticity (the maternal effect) is in part constrained by a high genetic correlation across host plants (r(G) > 0.6). However, the cross-environment genetic correlation is less than 1.0, which indicates that the size of eggs laid on these two hosts can diverge in response to natural selection and that egg size plasticity is thus capable of evolving in response to natural selection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)552-560
Number of pages9
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1999


  • Acacia greggii
  • Cercidium floridum
  • Genetic correlation
  • Heritability
  • Parental investment
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Stator limbatus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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