Organisms can affect one another's phenotypes when they socially interact. Indirect genetic effects occur when an individual's phenotype is affected by genes expressed in another individual. These heritable effects can enhance or reduce adaptive potential, thereby accelerating or reversing evolutionary change. Quantifying these social effects is therefore crucial for our understanding of evolution, yet estimates of indirect genetic effects in wild animals are limited to dyadic interactions. We estimated indirect phenotypic and genetic effects, and their covariance with direct effects, for the date of spring breeding in North American red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus ) living in an array of territories of varying spatial proximity. Additionally, we estimated indirect effects and the strength of selection at low and high population densities. Social effects of neighbours on the date of spring breeding were different from zero at high population densities but not at low population densities. Indirect phenotypic effects accounted for a larger amount of variation in the date of breeding than differences attributable to the among‐individual variance, suggesting social interactions are important for determining breeding dates. The genetic component to these indirect effects was however not statistically significant. We therefore showcase a powerful and flexible method that will allow researchers working in organisms with a range of social systems to estimate indirect phenotypic and genetic effects, and demonstrate the degree to which social interactions can influence phenotypes, even in a solitary species.
- indirect genetic effects
- social interactions