Mutation is a sufficient and robust predictor of genetic variation for mitotic spindle traits in C. elegans
Different types of phenotypic traits consistently exhibit different levels of genetic variation in natural populations. There are two potential explanations: either mutation produces genetic variation at different rates, or natural selection removes or promotes genetic variation at different rates. Whether mutation or selection is of greater general importance is a longstanding unresolved question in evolutionary genetics. Where the input of genetic variation by mutation differs between traits, it is usually uncertain whether the difference is the result of different mutational effects (“mutational robustness”) or different numbers of underlying loci (“mutational target”), although conventional wisdom favors the latter. We report mutational variances (VM) for 19 traits related to the first mitotic cell division in C. elegans, and compare them to the standing genetic variances (VG) for the same suite of traits in a worldwide collection C. elegans. Two robust conclusions emerge. First, the mutational process is highly repeatable: the correlation between VM in two independent sets of mutation accumulation lines is ~0.9. Second, VM for a trait is a very good predictor of VG for that trait: the correlation between VM and VG is ~0.9. This result is predicted for a population at mutation-selection balance; it is not predicted if balancing selection plays a primary role in maintaining genetic variation. Goodness-of-fit of the data to two simple models of mutation suggest that differences in mutational effects may be a more important cause of differences in VM between traits than differences in the size of the mutational target.