The Dynamics of Phenotypic Change and the Shrinking Sheep of St. Kilda

Science  24 Jul 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5939, pp. 464-467
DOI: 10.1126/science.1173668

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Environmental change, including climate change, can cause rapid phenotypic change via both ecological and evolutionary processes. Because ecological and evolutionary dynamics are intimately linked, a major challenge is to identify their relative roles. We exactly decomposed the change in mean body weight in a free-living population of Soay sheep into all the processes that contribute to change. Ecological processes contribute most, with selection—the underpinning of adaptive evolution—explaining little of the observed phenotypic trend. Our results enable us to explain why selection has so little effect even though weight is heritable, and why environmental change has caused a decline in the body size of Soay sheep.

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