Genetic covariation among multiple traits will bias the direction of evolution. Although a trait's phenotypic context is crucial for understanding evolutionary constraints, the evolutionary potential of one (focal) trait, rather than the whole phenotype, is often of interest. The extent to which a focal trait can evolve independently depends on how much of the genetic variance in that trait is unique. Here, we present a hypothesis-testing framework for estimating the genetic variance in a focal trait that is independent of variance in other traits. We illustrate our analytical approach using two Drosophila bunnanda trait sets: a contact pheromone system comprised of cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs), and wing shape, characterized by relative warps of vein position coordinates. Only 9% of the additive genetic variation in CHCs was trait specific, suggesting individual traits are unlikely to evolve independently. In contrast, most (72%) of the additive genetic variance in wing shape was trait specific, suggesting relative warp representations of wing shape could evolve independently. The identification of genetic variance in focal traits that is independent of other traits provides a way of studying the evolvability of individual traits within the broader context of the multivariate phenotype.
©2010 The Author(s). Journal compilation ©2010 The Society for the Study of Evolution.