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Evolutionary quantitative genetics and genomics applied to the study of sexually dimorphic traits in wild bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) Open Access


Other title
intralocus sexual conflict
cross-sex genetic correlation
quantitative genetics
bighorn sheep
sexual dimorphism
quantitative trait loci
linkage map
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Poissant, Jocelyn
Supervisor and department
Coltman, David (Biological Sciences)
Examining committee member and department
Moore, Stephen (Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science)
Cahill, James (Biological Sciences)
Moore, Allen (BioSciences)
Good, Allen (Biological Sciences)
Department of Biological Sciences

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
The independent evolution of the sexes may often be constrained if male and female homologous traits share a similar genetic architecture. Thus, cross-sex genetic covariance is assumed to play a key role in the evolution of sexual dimorphism (SD) with consequent impacts on sexual selection, population dynamics and the speciation process. I used quantitative genetics tools to assess the importance of sex-specific genetic variance in facilitating the evolution of body mass and horn size SD in wild bighorn sheep from Ram Mountain, Alberta. I also developed a bighorn sheep genetic linkage map composed of 247 microsatellite markers to gain insights about the genetic architecture of trait variation. Finally, I conducted systematic reviews and meta-analyses of published cross-sex genetic correlations (rMF, a standardized estimate of cross-sex genetic covariance) to test basic hypotheses about the importance of sex-specific genetic variance in the evolution of SD and mechanisms responsible for generating such variance. My results demonstrated that sex-specific genetic variance was present in bighorn sheep and that it likely played an important role in alleviating intralocus sexual conflicts. The quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping analysis resulted in the identification of numerous loci influencing body mass and horn dimensions, some of which had apparent sex-specific effects. An analysis of 553 rMF estimates recovered from 114 published sources allowed demonstrating that 1) the evolution of SD was generally constrained by positive cross-sex genetic covariance, 2) levels of SD were often sub-optimal, and 3) sex-specific genetic variance was an important mechanism allowing the evolution of SD. In addition, I confirmed the long-standing hypothesis of a general decline in rMF with age. Sexual dimorphism is an important evolutionary phenomenon, but our understanding of its evolution is still limited. After decades of speculation, my research has provided clear empirical evidence for the importance of sex-specific genetic variance in allowing its evolution.
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