A necessary condition for the maintenance of genetic variation in heterogenous environments is that the relative fitnesses of a collection of genotypes vary as conditions of growth change. This can be detected by estimating the amount of gene-by-environment interaction (G x E) when a range of types are tested across a range of conditions. However it is the sign and magnitude of the genetic correlation, which is a component of G x E, that governs the ultimate fate of variation. Whether genetic variation will be preserved, then, depends on how the genetic correlation changes as a function of the ecological differences among environments and the genetic differences among genotypes. To evaluate this, we assayed the performance of 15 chlorophyte species of known genetic relation in 20 environments. We found that the quantity of G x E increased as both the environmental variance across environments and the genetic distance increased. Moreover the genetic correlation declined as the environmental variance between pairs of environments and the genetic distance between pairs of genotypes increased. These results suggest that divergent selection will be more likely to maintain genetic variation when environments are strongly contrasted and genotypes widely divergent.
Corresponding Editor: E. Martins