The role of pleiotropy vs signaller-receiver gene epistasis in life history trade-offs: Dissecting the genomic architecture of organismal design in social systems

B. Sinervo*, J. Clobert, D. B. Miles, A. McAdam, L. T. Lancaster

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

16 Citations (Scopus)


Traditional life history theory ignores trade-offs due to social interactions, yet social systems expand the set of possible trade-offs affecting a species evolution - by introducing asymmetric interactions between the sexes, age classes and invasion of alternative strategies. We outline principles for understanding gene epistasis due to signaller-receiver dynamics, gene interactions between individuals, and impacts on life history trade-offs. Signaller-receiver epistases create trade-offs among multiple correlated traits that affect fitness, and generate multiple fitness optima conditional on frequency of alternative strategies. In such cases, fitness epistasis generated by selection can maintain linkage disequilibrium, even among physically unlinked loci. In reviewing genetic methods for studying life history trade-offs, we conclude that current artificial selection or gene manipulation experiments focus on pleiotropy. Multi-trait selection experiments, multi-gene engineering methods or multiple endocrine manipulations can test for epistasis and circumvent these limitations. In nature, gene mapping in field pedigrees is required to study social gene epistases and associated trade-offs. Moreover, analyses of correlational selection and frequency-dependent selection are necessary to study epistatic social system trade-offs, which can be achieved with group-structured versions of Price's (1970) equation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-211
Number of pages15
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2008



  • Epistasis
  • Life history trade-offs
  • Pleiotropy
  • Price equation
  • Selection
  • Social system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)

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