Theses Doctoral

Polygenic adaptation after a sudden change in environment

Hayward, Laura K.

Polygenic adaptation in response to selection on quantitative traits is thought to be ubiquitous in humans and other species, yet this mode of adaptation remains poorly understood. We investigate the dynamics of this process, assuming that a sudden change in environment shifts the optimal value of a highly polygenic quantitative trait. We find that when the shift is not too large relative to the genetic variance in the trait and this variance arises from segregating loci with small to moderate effect sizes (defined in terms of the selection acting on them before the shift), the mean phenotype's approach to the new optimum is well approximated by a rapid exponential process first described by Lande (1976). In contrast, when the shift is larger or large effect loci contribute substantially to genetic variance, the initially rapid approach is succeeded by a much slower one. In either case, the underlying changes to allele frequencies exhibit different behaviors short and long-term. Over the short term, strong directional selection on the trait introduces small differences between the frequencies of minor alleles whose effects are aligned with the shift in optimum versus those with effects in the opposite direction. The phenotypic effects of these differences are dominated by contributions from alleles with moderate and large effects, and cumulatively, these effects push the mean phenotype close to the new optimum. Over the longer term, weak directional selection on the trait can amplify the expected frequency differences between opposite alleles; however, since the mean phenotype is close to the new optimum, alleles are mainly affected by stabilizing selection on the trait. Consequently, the frequency differences between opposite alleles translate into small differences in their probabilities of fixation, and the short-term phenotypic contributions of large effect alleles are largely supplanted by contributions of fixed, moderate ones.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Sella, Guy
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 28, 2020