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Epigenetics and the city: non-parallel DNA methylation modifications across pairs of urban-rural Great tit populations.
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  • Aude Caizergues,
  • Jeremy Le Luyer,
  • Arnaud Grégoire,
  • Martha Szulkin,
  • Juan Carlos Senar,
  • Anne Charmantier,
  • Charles Perrier
Aude Caizergues

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Jeremy Le Luyer
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Arnaud Grégoire
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Martha Szulkin
University of Warsaw
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Juan Carlos Senar
Natural History Museum Barcelona
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Anne Charmantier
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Charles Perrier
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Identifying the molecular mechanisms involved in rapid adaptation to novel environments and determining their predictability, are central questions in evolutionary biology and pressing issues due to rapid global changes. Complementary to genetic responses to selection, faster epigenetic variations such as modifications of DNA methylation may play a substantial role in rapid adaptation. In the context of rampant urbanization, joint examinations of genomic and epigenomic mechanisms are still lacking. Here, we investigated genomic (SNP) and epigenomic (CpG methylation) responses to urban life in a passerine bird, the Great tit (Parus major). To test whether urban evolution is predictable (i.e parallel) or involves mostly non-parallel molecular processes among cities, we analysed both SNP and CpG methylation variations across three distinct pairs of city and forest Great tit populations in Europe. Our analyses reveal a polygenic response to urban life, with both many genes putatively under weak divergent selection and multiple differentially methylated regions (DMRs) between forest and city great tits. DMRs mainly overlapped transcription start sites and promotor regions, suggesting their importance in modulating gene expression. Both genomic and epigenomic outliers were found in genomic regions enriched for genes with biological functions related to the nervous system, immunity, or behavioural, hormonal and stress responses. Interestingly, comparisons across the three pairs of city-forest populations suggested little parallelism in both genetic and epigenetic responses. Our results confirm, at both the genetic and epigenetic levels, hypotheses of polygenic and largely non-parallel mechanisms of rapid adaptation in novel environments such as urbanized areas.