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How traits at multiple levels of biological organization evolve in a correlated fashion in response to directional selection is poorly understood, but two popular models are the very general “behavior evolves first” (BEF) hypothesis and the more specific “morphology-performance-behavior-fitness” (MPBF) paradigm. Both acknowledge that selection often acts relatively directly on behavior and that when behavior evolves, other traits will as well but most with some lag. However, this proposition is exceedingly difficult to test in nature. Therefore, we studied correlated responses in the high-runner (HR) mouse selection experiment, in which four replicate lines have been bred for voluntary wheel-running behavior and compared with four nonselected control (C) lines. We analyzed a wide range of traits measured at generations 20–24 (with a focus on new data from generation 22), coinciding with the point at which all HR lines were reaching selection limits (plateaus). Significance levels (226 P values) were compared across trait types by ANOVA, and we used the positive false discovery rate to control for multiple comparisons. This meta-analysis showed that, surprisingly, the measures of performance (including maximal oxygen consumption during forced exercise) showed no evidence of having diverged between the HR and C lines, nor did any of the life history traits (e.g., litter size), whereas body mass had responded (decreased) at least as strongly as wheel running. Overall, results suggest that the HR lines of mice had evolved primarily by changes in motivation rather than performance ability at the time they were reaching selection limits. In addition, neither the BEF model nor the MPBF model of hierarchical evolution provides a particularly good fit to the HR mouse selection experiment.


This article was originally published in Ecological and Evolutionary Physiology in 2024.


University of Chicago

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Available for download on Thursday, April 17, 2025