Mutation generates the heritable variation that genetic drift and natural selection shape. In classical quantitative genetic models, drift is a function of the effective population size and acts uniformly across traits, whereas mutation and selection act trait-specifically. We identified thousands of quantitative trait loci (QTLs) influencing transcript abundance traits in a cross of two Caenorhabditis elegans strains; although trait-specific mutation and selection explained some of the observed pattern of QTL distribution, the pattern was better explained by trait-independent variation in the intensity of selection on linked sites. Our results suggest that traits in C. elegans exhibit different levels of variation less because of their own attributes than because of differences in the effective population sizes of the genomic regions harboring their underlying loci.
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