The amount of genetic variation of floral traits and the degree to which they are genetically correlated are important parameters for the study of plant evolution. Estimates of these parameters can reveal the effect of historical selection relative to neutral processes such as mutation and drift, and allow us to predict the short-term evolutionary trajectory of a population under various selective regimes. Here, we assess the heritability and genetic correlation of the floral design of a native N. American tetraploid plant, Silene stellata (Caryophyllaceae), in a natural population. Specifically, we use a linear mixed model to estimate the genetic parameters based on a genealogy reconstructed from highly variable molecular markers. Overall, we found significant heritabilities in five out of nine studied traits. The level of heritability was intermediate (0.027 - 0.441). Interestingly, the floral trait showing the highest level of genetic variation was previously shown to be under strong sexually conflicting selection, which may serve as a mechanism for maintaining the observed genetic variation. Additionally, we also found prevalent positive genetic correlations between floral traits. Our results suggest that S. stellata is capable of responding to phenotypic selection on its floral design, while the abundant positive genetic correlations could also constrain the evolutionary trajectories to certain directions. Furthermore, this study demonstrates the utility and feasibility of marker-based approaches for estimating genetic parameters in natural populations.
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