Roe deer (Capreolus spp.) are a little odd. They are one of only a few placental mammals — and the only genus among even-toed ungulates — capable of putting embryonic development “on ice”, also known as embryonic diapause (Fig. 1). It would seem such an unusual trait is likely the product of natural selection, but a big question is, how does selection for important traits, such as diapause, interact with the historical demography of a species? In a ‘From the Cover’ article in this issue of Molecular Ecology, de Jong et al. (2020) demonstrate that selection is acting on genes associated with reproductive biology in roe deer, despite heightened genetic drift due to reduced effective population size through the Pleistocene.
Summer heat waves are the principal global driver of mortality in reef-building corals. Resilience-based genetic management may increase coral heat tolerance, but it is unclear how temperature responses are regulated at a genomic level and thus how corals may adapt to warming naturally or through selective breeding. Here we combine phenotypic, pedigree, and genomic marker data from colonies sourced from a warm reef on the Great Barrier Reef reproductively crossed with conspecific colonies from a cooler reef to produce combinations of warm and cool purebred and hybrid larvae and juveniles. Intra-population breeding created significantly greater genetic diversity across the coral genome and maintained diversity in key regions associated with heat tolerance and fitness. High-density genome-wide scans of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) identified alleles significantly associated with offspring reared at 27.5°C (87 – 2,224 loci), including loci putatively associated with proteins involved in responses to heat stress (cell membrane formation, metabolism, and immune responses). Underlying genetics explained 43% of PCoA variation in juvenile survival, growth, and bleaching responses at 27.5°C and 31°C between the multilocus genotypes. Genetic marker contribution to total variation in fitness traits (narrow-sense heritability) were high for survival but not for growth and bleaching in juveniles, with heritability of these traits influenced more at 31°C relative to 27.5°C. Using only a limited number of crosses, the mechanistic understanding presented here demonstrates that allele frequencies are affected by one generation of selective breeding, key information for the assessments of genetic intervention feasibility and modelling of reef futures.
Monarch butterflies are known for their spectacular annual migration in eastern North America, with millions of monarchs flying up to 4,500 kilometers to overwintering sites in central Mexico. Monarchs also live west of the Rocky Mountains, where they travel shorter distances to overwinter along the Pacific Coast. It is often assumed that eastern and western monarchs form distinct evolutionary units, but genomic studies to support this notion are lacking. We used a tethered flight mill to show that migratory eastern monarchs have greater flight performance than western monarchs, consistent with their greater migratory distances. However, analyzing more than 20 million SNPs in 43 monarch genomes, we found no evidence for genomic differentiation between eastern and western monarchs. Genomic analysis also showed identical and low levels of genetic diversity, and demographic analyses indicated similar effective population sizes and ongoing gene flow between eastern and western monarchs. Gene expression analysis of a subset of candidate genes during active flight revealed differential gene expression related to non-muscular motor activity. Our results demonstrate that eastern and western monarchs maintain migratory differences despite ongoing gene flow, and suggest that migratory differences between eastern and western monarchs are not driven by select major-effects alleles. Instead, variation in migratory distance and destination may be driven by environmentally induced differential gene expression, or by many alleles of small effect.
Parallel evolution can occur through novel mutations, standing genetic variation, or adaptive introgression. Uncovering parallelism and introgressed populations can complicate management of threatened species, particularly as admixed populations are not generally considered under conservation legislations. We examined high coverage whole-genome sequences of 30 caribou (Rangifer tarandus) from across North America and Greenland, representing divergent intra-specific lineages, to investigate parallelism and levels of introgression contributing to the formation of ecotypes. Caribou are split into four subspecies and 11 extant conservation units, known as Designatable Units (DUs), in Canada. Using genomes from all four subspecies and six DUs, we undertake demographic reconstruction and confirm two previously inferred instances of parallel evolution in the woodland subspecies and uncover an additional instance of parallelism of the eastern migratory ecotype. Detailed investigations reveal introgression in the woodland subspecies, with introgressed regions found spread throughout the genomes encompassing both neutral and functional sites. Our comprehensive investigations using whole genomes highlight the difficulties in unequivocally demonstrating parallelism through adaptive introgression in non-model species with complex demographic histories, with standing variation and introgression both potentially involved. Additionally, the impact of parallelism and introgression on the designation of conservation units has not been widely considered, and the caribou designations will need amending in light of our results. Uncovering and decoupling parallelism and differential patterns of introgression will become prevalent with the availability of comprehensive genomic data from non-model species, and we highlight the need to incorporate this into conservation unit designations.
Genetic tools are increasingly used to identify and discriminate between species. One key transition in this process was the recognition of the potential of the ca 658bp fragment of the organelle cytochrome c oxidase I (COI) as a barcode region, which revolutionised animal bioidentification and lead, among others, to the instigation of the Barcode of Life database (BOLD), containing currently barcodes from >7.9 million specimens. Following this discovery, suggestions for other organellar regions and markers, and the primers with which to amplify them, have been continuously proposed. Most recently, the field has taken the leap from PCR based generation of DNA references into shotgun sequencing-based ‘genome skimming’ alternatives, which the ultimate goal of assembling organellar reference genomes. Unfortunately, in genome skimming approaches, much of the nuclear genome (as much as 99% of the sequence data) is discarded, which is not only wasteful but can also limit the power of discrimination at or below the species level. Here, we advocate that the full shotgun sequence data can be used to assign an identity (that we term for convenience its ‘DNA-mark’) for both voucher and query samples, without requiring any computationally intensive pretreatment (e.g., assembly) of reads. We argue that if reference databases are populated with such ‘DNA-marks’, it will enable future DNA-based taxonomic identification to complement, or even replace PCR of barcodes with genome skimming, and we discuss how such methodology ultimately could enable identification to population, or even individual, level.
Although species delimitation can be highly contentious, the development of reliable methods to accurately ascertain species boundaries is an imperative step in cataloguing and describing Earth’s quickly disappearing biodiversity. Spider species delimitation remains largely based on morphological characters; however, many mygalomorph spider populations are morphologically indistinguishable from each other yet have considerable molecular divergence. The focus of our study, Antrodiaetus unicolor species complex which contains two sympatric species, exhibits this pattern of relative morphological stasis with considerable genetic divergence across its distribution. A past study using two molecular markers, COI and 28S, revealed that A. unicolor is paraphyletic with respect to A. microunicolor. To better investigate species boundaries in the complex, we implement the cohesion species concept and employ multiple lines of evidence for testing genetic exchangeability and ecological interchangeability. Our integrative approach includes extensively sampling homologous loci across the genome using a RADseq approach (3RAD), assessing population structure across their geographic range using multiple genetic clustering analyses that include STRUCTURE, PCA, and a recently developed unsupervised machine learning approach (Variational Autoencoder). We evaluate ecological similarity by using large-scale ecological data for niche-based distribution modeling. Based on our analyses, we conclude that this complex has at least one additional species as well as confirm species delimitations based on previous less comprehensive approaches. Our study demonstrates the efficacy of genomic-scale data for recognizing cryptic species, suggesting that species delimitation with one data type, whether one mitochondrial gene or morphology, may underestimate true species diversity in morphologically homogenous taxa with low vagility.
Despite its inherent costs, sexual reproduction is ubiquitous in nature, and the mechanisms to protect it from a competitive displacement by asexuality remain unclear. Popular mutation-based explanations, like the Muller's ratchet and the Kondrashov's hatchet, assume that purifying selection may not halt the accumulation of deleterious mutations in the non-recombining genomes, ultimately leading to their degeneration. However, empirical evidence is scarce and it remains particularly unclear whether mutational degradation proceeds fast enough to ensure the decay of clonal organisms and to prevent them from outcompeting their sexual counterparts. To test this hypothesis, we jointly analyzed the exome sequences and the fitness-related phenotypic traits of the sexually-reproducing fish species and their clonal hybrids, whose evolutionary ages ranged from F1 generations to 300 ky. As expected, mutations tended to accumulate in the clonal genomes in a time-dependent manner. However, contrary to the predictions, we found no trend towards increased non-synonymity of mutations acquired by clones, nor higher radicality of their amino-acid substitutions. Moreover, there was no evidence for fitness degeneration in the old clones compared to that in the younger ones. In summary, although a purifying selection may still be relaxed in the asexual genomes, our data indicate that its efficiency is not drastically decreased. Even the oldest investigated clone was found to be too young to suffer fitness consequences from a mutation accumulation. This suggests that mechanisms other than mutation accumulation may be needed to explain the competitive advantage of sex in the short term.
Parental effects influence offspring phenotypes through pre- and post-natal routes but little is known about their molecular basis, and therefore their adaptive significance. Epigenetic modifications, which control gene expression without changes in the DNA sequence and are influenced by the environment, may contribute to parental effects. Taking advantage of the self-fertilising and inbred nature of the mangrove killifish Kryptolebias marmoratus, we investigated the effects of the rearing environment on parents and offspring by comparing neophobia, metabolic rate and brain epigenetic (DNA methylation) patterns of genetically identical fish reared in enriched or barren environments. Parental fish reared in enriched environments had lower cortisol levels, lower metabolic rates and were more active and neophobic than those reared in barren environments. They also differed in 1,854 methylated cytosines (DMCs). Offspring activity and neophobia were determined by the parental environment and we also found evidence of, limited but significant, parental influence on the DNA methylation patterns of the offspring. Among the DMCs of the parents, 98 followed the same methylation patterns in the offspring, three of which were significantly influenced by parental environments irrespective of their own rearing environment. Our results suggest that the environment experienced by the parents influences the behaviour and, to some extent, brain DNA methylation patterns of the offspring in an environment-specific manner.