Genotype-Phenotype Maps Maximizing Evolvability: Modularity Revisited
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- Pavlicev, M. & Hansen, T.F. Evol Biol (2011) 38: 371. doi:10.1007/s11692-011-9136-5
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The mechanisms translating genetic to phenotypic variation determine the distribution of heritable phenotypic variance available to selection. Pleiotropy is an aspect of this structure that limits independent variation of characters. Modularization of pleiotropy has been suggested to promote evolvability by restricting genetic covariance among unrelated characters and reducing constraints due to correlated response. However, modularity may also reduce total genetic variation of characters. We study the properties of genotype-phenotype maps that maximize average conditional evolvability, measured as the amount of unconstrained genetic variation in random directions of phenotypic space. In general, maximal evolvability occurs by maximizing genetic variance and minimizing genetic covariance. This does not necessarily require modularity, only patterns of pleiotropy that cancel on average. The detailed structure of the most evolvable genotype-phenotype maps depends on the distribution of molecular variance. When molecular variance is determined by mutation-selection equilibrium either highly pleiotropic or highly modular genotype-phenotype maps can be optimal, depending on the mutation rate and the relative strengths of stabilizing selection on the characters.