Heritable variation in, and genetic correlations among, traits determine the response of multivariate phenotypes to natural selection. However, as traits develop over ontogeny, patterns of genetic (co)variation and integration captured by the G matrix may also change. Despite this, few studies have investigated how genetic parameters underpinning multivariate phenotypes change as animals pass through major life history stages. Here, using a self-fertilizing hermaphroditic fish species, mangrove rivulus (Kryptolebias marmoratus), we test the hypothesis that G changes from hatching through reproductive maturation. We also test Cheverud’s conjecture by asking whether phenotypic patterns provide an acceptable surrogate for patterns of genetic (co)variation within and across ontogenetic stages. For a set of morphological traits linked to locomotor (jumping) performance, we find that the overall level of genetic integration (as measured by the mean-squared correlation across all traits) does not change significantly over ontogeny. However, we also find evidence that some trait-specific genetic variances and pairwise genetic correlations do change. Ontogenetic changes in G indicate the presence of genetic variance for developmental processes themselves, while also suggesting that any genetic constraints on morphological evolution may be age-dependent. Phenotypic correlations closely resembled genetic correlations at each stage in ontogeny. Thus, our results are consistent with the premise that—at least under common environment conditions—phenotypic correlations can be a good substitute for genetic correlations in studies of multivariate developmental evolution.

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We would like to thank Andrew Burks, Brent Ishii, Calli Perkins, Abigail Sisti, Mark Smith, and Courtney Zacharias for helping with data collection. We would also like to thank Jane Rasco for her help with clearing and staining fish specimens. This work was partially supported by a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) USA partnering award to AJW and RLE. All animal care was done in accordance with The University of Alabama’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) (Protocol #:14-05-0070).

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  1. Department of Biology, Culver-Stockton College, One College Hill, Canton, MO, 63435, USA

    • Joseph M. Styga
  2. Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alabama, 300 Hackberry Lane, Box 870344, Tuscaloosa, AL, 35487, USA

    • Joseph M. Styga
    •  & Ryan L. Earley
  3. Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3EJ, UK

    • Thomas M. Houslay
  4. Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter-Penryn Campus, Cornwall, TR10 9FE, UK

    • Thomas M. Houslay
    •  & Alastair J. Wilson


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