Maternal inheritance and rapid evolution of sexual size dimorphism: Passive effects or active strategies?

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Adaptive evolution is often strongly influenced by maternal inheritance that transfers the parental strategies across generations. The consequences of maternal effects for the offspring generation depend on the between-generation similarity in environments and on the evolved sensitivity of the offspring's ontogeny to maternal effects. When these factors differ between sons and daughters, maternal effects can influence the evolution of sexual dimorphism. The establishment of house finch populations across western Montana during the last 30 years was accompanied by rapid evolutionary change in sexual size dimorphism. Here I show that traits that changed the most across generations were most influenced by maternal effects in males but not females. Maternal effects differentially affected sons' and daughters' survival; greater maternal effects were commonly associated with higher survival of sons, especially when maternal and offspring environments were similar. Stronger maternal effects extended preselection phenotypic variance in morphological traits of males, thereby producing some locally adaptive phenotypes and lessening juvenile mortality. Thus, the observed sex-specific maternal effects and their contribution to the evolution of sexual size dimorphism are likely a passive consequence of the distinct sensitivity of sons and daughters to maternal adaptations to breeding in ecologically distinct parts of the house finch's expanding range.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S17-S30
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number4 SUPPL.
StatePublished - Oct 2005


  • Growth
  • Maternal effects
  • Sexual size dimorphism
  • Survival selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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