For over half a century, it has been known that the rate of morphological evolution appears to vary with the time frame of measurement. Rates of microevolutionary change, measured between successive generations, were found to be far higher than rates of macroevolutionary change inferred from the fossil record. More recently, it has been suggested that rates of molecular evolution are also time dependent, with the estimated rate depending on the timescale of measurement. This followed surprising observations that estimates of mutation rates, obtained in studies of pedigrees and laboratory mutation‐accumulation lines, exceeded long‐term substitution rates by an order of magnitude or more. Although a range of studies have provided evidence for such a pattern, the hypothesis remains relatively contentious. Furthermore, there is ongoing discussion about the factors that can cause molecular rate estimates to be dependent on time. Here we present an overview of our current understanding of time‐dependent rates. We provide a summary of the evidence for time‐dependent rates in animals, bacteria and viruses. We review the various biological and methodological factors that can cause rates to be time dependent, including the effects of natural selection, calibration errors, model misspecification and other artefacts. We also describe the challenges in calibrating estimates of molecular rates, particularly on the intermediate timescales that are critical for an accurate characterization of time‐dependent rates. This has important consequences for the use of molecular‐clock methods to estimate timescales of recent evolutionary events.
Genomic scans of multiple populations often reveal marker loci with greatly increased differentiation between populations. Often this differentiation coincides in space with contrasts in ecological factors, forming a genetic–environment association (GEA). GEAs imply a role for local adaptation, and so it is tempting to conclude that the strongly differentiated markers are themselves under ecologically based divergent selection, or are closely linked to loci under such selection. Here, we highlight an alternative and neglected explanation: intrinsic (i.e. environment‐independent) pre‐ or post‐zygotic genetic incompatibilities rather than local adaptation can be responsible for increased differentiation. Intrinsic genetic incompatibilities create endogenous barriers to gene flow, also known as tension zones, whose location can shift over time. However, tension zones have a tendency to become trapped by, and therefore to coincide with, exogenous barriers due to ecological selection. This coupling of endogenous and exogenous barriers can occur easily in spatially subdivided populations, even if the loci involved are unlinked. The result is that local adaptation explains where genetic breaks are positioned, but not necessarily their existence, which can be best explained by endogenous incompatibilities. More precisely, we show that (i) the coupling of endogenous and exogenous barriers can easily occur even when ecological selection is weak; (ii) when environmental heterogeneity is fine‐grained, GEAs can emerge at incompatibility loci, but only locally, in places where habitats and gene pools are sufficiently intermingled to maintain linkage disequilibria between genetic incompatibilities, local‐adaptation genes and neutral loci. Furthermore, the association between the locally adapted and intrinsically incompatible alleles (i.e. the sign of linkage disequilibrium between endogenous and exogenous loci) is arbitrary and can form in either direction. Reviewing results from the literature, we find that many predictions of our model are supported, including endogenous genetic barriers that coincide with environmental boundaries, local GEA in mosaic hybrid zones, and inverted or modified GEAs at distant locations. We argue that endogenous genetic barriers are often more likely than local adaptation to explain the majority of Fst‐outlying loci observed in genome scan approaches – even when these are correlated to environmental variables.
Specialized relationships with bacteria often allow animals to exploit a new diet by providing a novel set of metabolic capabilities. Bees are a monophyletic group of Hymenoptera that transitioned to a completely herbivorous diet from the carnivorous diet of their wasp ancestors. Recent culture‐independent studies suggest that a set of distinctive bacterial species inhabits the gut of the honey bee, Apis mellifera. Here we survey the gut microbiotae of diverse bee and wasp species to test whether acquisition of these bacteria was associated with the transition to herbivory in bees generally. We found that most bee species lack phylotypes that are the same or similar to those typical of A. mellifera , rejecting the hypothesis that this dietary transition was symbiont‐dependent. The most common bacteria in solitary bee species are a widespread phylotype of Burkholderia and the pervasive insect associate, Wolbachia . In contrast, several social representatives of corbiculate bees do possess distinctive bacterial phylotypes. Samples of A. mellifera harboured the same microbiota as in previous surveys, and closely related bacterial phylotypes were identified in two Asian honey bees ( Apis andreniformis and Apis dorsata ) and several bumble bee ( Bombus ) species. Potentially, the sociality of Apis and Bombus species facilitates symbiont transmission and thus is key to the maintenance of a more consistent gut microbiota. Phylogenetic analyses provide a more refined taxonomic placement of the A. mellifera symbionts.
The genetic differentiation among populations is affected by mutation as well as by migration, drift and selection. For loci with high mutation rates, such as microsatellites, the amount of mutation can influence the values of indices of differentiation such as G(ST) and F-ST. For many purposes, this effect is undesirable, and as a result, new indices such as and D have been proposed to measure population differentiation. This paper shows that these new indices are not effective measures of the causes or consequences of population structure. Both and D depend heavily on mutation rate, but both are insensitive to any population genetic process when the mutation rate is high relative to the migration rate. Furthermore, D is specific to the locus being measured, and so little can be inferred about the population demography from D. However, at equilibrium, D may provide an index of whether a particular marker is more strongly affected by mutation than by migration. I argue that F-ST is a more important summary of the effects of population structure than D and that R-ST or other measures that explicitly account for the mutation process are much better than G(ST), , or D for highly mutable markers. Markers with lower mutation rates will often be easier to interpret.
Genealogies estimated from haplotypic genetic data play a prominent role in various biological disciplines in general and in phylogenetics, population genetics and phylogeography in particular. Several software packages have specifically been developed for the purpose of reconstructing genealogies from closely related, and hence, highly similar haplotype sequence data. Here, we use simulated data sets to test the performance of traditional phylogenetic algorithms, neighbour‐joining, maximum parsimony and maximum likelihood in estimating genealogies from nonrecombining haplotypic genetic data. We demonstrate that these methods are suitable for constructing genealogies from sets of closely related DNA sequences with or without migration. As genealogies based on phylogenetic reconstructions are fully resolved, but not necessarily bifurcating, and without reticulations, these approaches outperform widespread ‘network’ constructing methods. In our simulations of coalescent scenarios involving panmictic, symmetric and asymmetric migration, we found that phylogenetic reconstruction methods performed well, while the statistical parsimony approach as implemented in TCS performed poorly. Overall, parsimony as implemented in the PHYLIP package performed slightly better than other methods. We further point out that we are not making the case that widespread ‘network’ constructing methods are bad, but that traditional phylogenetic tree finding methods are applicable to haplotypic data and exhibit reasonable performance with respect to accuracy and robustness. We also discuss some of the problems of converting a tree to a haplotype genealogy, in particular that it is nonunique.
How common is speciation‐with‐gene‐flow? How much does gene flow impact on speciation? To answer questions like these requires understanding of the common obstacles to evolving reproductive isolation in the face of gene flow and the factors that favour this crucial step. We provide a common framework for the ways in which gene flow opposes speciation and the potential conditions that may ease divergence. This framework is centred on the challenge shared by most scenarios of speciation‐with‐gene‐flow, i.e. the need for coupling among different components of reproductive isolation. Using this structure, we review and compare the factors favouring speciation with the intention of providing a more integrated picture of speciation‐with‐gene‐flow.
The current epidemic of the mountain pine beetle (MPB), an indigenous pest of western North American pine, has resulted in significant losses of lodgepole pine. The leading edge has reached Alberta where forest composition shifts from lodgepole to jack pine through a hybrid zone. The susceptibility of jack pine to MPB is a major concern, but there has been no evidence of host‐range expansion, in part due to the difficulty in distinguishing the parentals and their hybrids. We tested the utility of a panel of microsatellite loci optimized for both species to classify lodgepole pine, jack pine and their hybrids using simulated data. We were able to accurately classify simulated individuals, and hence applied these markers to identify the ancestry of attacked trees. Here we show for the first time successful MPB attack in natural jack pine stands at the leading edge of the epidemic. This once unsuitable habitat is now a novel environment for MPB to exploit, a potential risk which could be exacerbated by further climate change. The consequences of host‐range expansion for the vast boreal ecosystem could be significant.
Aside from its selective role in filtering inter‐individual variation during evolution by natural selection, the environment also plays an instructive role in producing variation during development. External environmental cues can influence developmental rates and/or trajectories and lead to the production of distinct phenotypes from the same genotype. This can result in a better match between adult phenotype and selective environment and thus represents a potential solution to problems posed by environmental fluctuation. The phenomenon is called adaptive developmental plasticity. The study of developmental plasticity integrates different disciplines (notably ecology and developmental biology) and analyses at all levels of biological organization, from the molecular regulation of changes in organismal development to variation in phenotypes and fitness in natural populations. Here, we focus on recent advances and examples from morphological traits in animals to provide a broad overview covering (i) the evolution of developmental plasticity, as well as its relevance to adaptive evolution, (ii) the ecological significance of alternative environmentally induced phenotypes, and the way the external environment can affect development to produce them, (iii) the molecular mechanisms underlying developmental plasticity, with emphasis on the contribution of genetic, physiological and epigenetic factors, and (iv) current challenges and trends, including the relevance of the environmental sensitivity of development to studies in ecological developmental biology, biomedicine and conservation biology.
Elevated temperatures resulting from climate change pose a clear threat to reef‐building corals; however, the traits that might influence corals’ survival and dispersal during climate change remain poorly understood. Global gene expression profiling is a powerful hypothesis‐forming tool that can help elucidate these traits. Here, we applied a novel RNA‐Seq protocol to study molecular responses to heat and settlement inducers in aposymbiotic larvae of the reef‐building coral Acropora millepora . This analysis of a single full‐sibling family revealed contrasting responses between short‐ (4‐h) and long‐term (5‐day) exposures to elevated temperatures. Heat shock proteins were up‐regulated only in the short‐term treatment, while the long‐term treatment induced the down‐regulation of ribosomal proteins and up‐regulation of genes associated with ion transport and metabolism (Ca 2+ and CO 3 2− ). We also profiled responses to settlement cues using a natural cue (crustose coralline algae, CCA) and a synthetic neuropeptide (GLW‐amide). Both cues resulted in metamorphosis, accompanied by differential expression of genes with known developmental roles. Some genes were regulated only by the natural cue, which may correspond to the recruitment‐associated behaviour and morphology changes that precede metamorphosis under CCA treatment, but are bypassed under GLW‐amide treatment. Validation of these expression profiles using qPCR confirmed the quantitative accuracy of our RNA‐Seq approach. Importantly, qPCR analysis of different larval families revealed extensive variation in these responses depending on genetic background, including qualitative differences (i.e. up‐regulation in one family and down‐regulation in another). Future studies of gene expression in corals will have to address this genetic variation, which could have important adaptive consequences for corals during global climate change.
The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) forms an integral component of the vertebrate immune response and, due to strong selection pressures, is one of the most polymorphic regions of the entire genome. Despite over 15 years of research, empirical studies offer highly contradictory explanations of the relative roles of different evolutionary forces, selection and genetic drift, acting on MHC genes during population bottlenecks. Here, we take a meta‐analytical approach to quantify the results of studies into the effects of bottlenecks on MHC polymorphism. We show that the consequences of selection acting on MHC loci prior to a bottleneck event, combined with drift during the bottleneck, will result in overall loss of MHC polymorphism that is ∼15% greater than loss of neutral genetic diversity. These results are counter to general expectations that selection should maintain MHC polymorphism, but do agree with the results of recent simulation models and at least two empirical studies. Notably, our results suggest that negative frequency‐dependent selection could be more important than overdominance for maintaining high MHC polymorphism in pre‐bottlenecked populations.
Lichens are symbioses between fungi (mycobionts) and photoautotrophic green algae or cyanobacteria (photobionts). Many lichens occupy large distributional ranges covering several climatic zones. So far, little is known about the large‐scale phylogeography of lichen photobionts and their role in shaping the distributional ranges of lichens. We studied south polar, temperate and north polar populations of the widely distributed fruticose lichen Cetraria aculeata . Based on the DNA sequences from three loci for each symbiont, we compared the genetic structure of mycobionts and photobionts. Phylogenetic reconstructions and Bayesian clustering methods divided the mycobiont and photobiont data sets into three groups. An amova shows that the genetic variance of the photobiont is best explained by differentiation between temperate and polar regions and that of the mycobiont by an interaction of climatic and geographical factors. By partialling out the relative contribution of climate, geography and codispersal, we found that the most relevant factors shaping the genetic structure of the photobiont are climate and a history of codispersal. Mycobionts in the temperate region are consistently associated with a specific photobiont lineage. We therefore conclude that a photobiont switch in the past enabled C. aculeata to colonize temperate as well as polar habitats. Rare photobiont switches may increase the geographical range and ecological niche of lichen mycobionts by associating them with locally adapted photobionts in climatically different regions and, together with isolation by distance, may lead to genetic isolation between populations and thus drive the evolution of lichens.
Elucidating the factors influencing genetic differentiation is an important task in biology, and the relative contribution from natural selection and genetic drift has long been debated. In this study, we used a regression‐based approach to simultaneously estimate the quantitative contributions of environmental adaptation and isolation by distance on genetic variation in Boechera stricta , a wild relative of Arabidopsis . Patterns of discrete and continuous genetic differentiation coexist within this species. For the discrete differentiation between two major genetic groups, environment has larger contribution than geography, and we also identified a significant environment‐by‐geography interaction effect. Elsewhere in the species range, we found a latitudinal cline of genetic variation reflecting only isolation by distance. To further confirm the effect of environmental selection on genetic divergence, we identified the specific environmental variables predicting local genotypes in allopatric and sympatric regions. Water availability was identified as the possible cause of differential local adaptation in both geographical regions, confirming the role of environmental adaptation in driving and maintaining genetic differentiation between the two major genetic groups. In addition, the environment‐by‐geography interaction is further confirmed by the finding that water availability is represented by different environmental factors in the allopatric and sympatric regions. In conclusion, this study shows that geographical and environmental factors together created stronger and more discrete genetic differentiation than isolation by distance alone, which only produced a gradual, clinal pattern of genetic variation. These findings emphasize the importance of environmental selection in shaping patterns of species‐wide genetic variation in the natural environment.
A key question in many genetic studies on marine organisms is how to interpret a low but statistically significant level of genetic differentiation. Do such observations reflect a real phenomenon, or are they caused by confounding factors such as unrepresentative sampling or selective forces acting on the marker loci? Further, are low levels of differentiation biologically trivial, or can they represent a meaningful and perhaps important finding? We explored these issues in an empirical study on coastal Atlantic cod, combining temporally replicated genetic samples over a 10‐year period with an extensive capture–mark–recapture study of individual mobility and population size. The genetic analyses revealed a pattern of differentiation between the inner part of the fjord and the open skerries area at the fjord entrance. Overall, genetic differentiation was weak (average F ST = 0.0037), but nevertheless highly statistical significant and did not depend on particular loci that could be subject to selection. This spatial component dominated over temporal change, and temporal replicates clustered together throughout the 10‐year period. Consistent with genetic results, the majority of the recaptured fish were found close to the point of release, with <1% of recaptured individuals dispersing between the inner fjord and outer skerries. We conclude that low levels of genetic differentiation in this marine fish can indeed be biologically meaningful, corresponding to separate, temporally persistent, local populations. We estimated the genetically effective sizes ( N e ) of the two coastal cod populations to 198 and 542 and found a N e /N (spawner) ratio of 0.14.
The estimation of species diversity in fungal endophyte communities is based either on species counts or on the assignment of operational taxonomic units (OTUs). Consequently, the application of different species recognition criteria affects not only diversity estimates but also the ecological hypotheses that arise from those observations. The main objective of the study was to examine how the choice and number of genetic markers and species delimitation criteria influence biodiversity estimates. Here, we compare approaches to defining species boundaries in three dominant species complexes of tropical endophytes, specially Colletotrichum gloeosporioides agg., Pestalotiopsis microspora agg. and Trichoderma harzianum agg., from two Amazonian trees: Hevea brasiliensis and H. guianensis . Molecular tools were used to describe and compare the diversity of the different assemblages. Multilocus phylogenetic analyses [ gpd , internal transcribed spacer (ITS) and tef1 ] and modern techniques for phylogenetic species delimitation were overlaid with ecological data to recognize putative species or OTUs. The results demonstrate that ITS alone generally underestimates the number of species predicted by other nuclear loci. These results question the use of ITS and arbitrary divergence thresholds for species delimitation.
European eels ( Anguilla anguilla ) spawn in the remote Sargasso Sea in partial sympatry with American eels ( Anguilla rostrata ), and juveniles are transported more than 5000 km back to the European and North African coasts. The two species have been regarded as classic textbook examples of panmixia, each comprising a single, randomly mating population. However, several recent studies based on continental samples have found subtle, but significant, genetic differentiation, interpreted as geographical or temporal heterogeneity between samples. Moreover, European and American eels can hybridize, but hybrids have been observed almost exclusively in Iceland, suggesting hybridization in a specific region of the Sargasso Sea and subsequent nonrandom dispersal of larvae. Here, we report the first molecular population genetics study based on analysis of 21 microsatellite loci in larvae of both Atlantic eel species sampled directly in the spawning area, supplemented by analysis of European glass eel samples. Despite a clear East–West gradient in the overlapping distribution of the two species in the Sargasso Sea, we only observed a single putative hybrid, providing evidence against the hypothesis of a wide marine hybrid zone. Analyses of genetic differentiation, isolation by distance, isolation by time and assignment tests provided strong evidence for panmixia in both the Sargasso Sea and across all continental samples of European eel after accounting for the presence of sibs among newly hatched larvae. European eel has declined catastrophically, and our findings call for management of the species as a single unit, necessitating coordinated international conservation efforts.
In wild populations, individuals are regularly exposed to a wide range of pathogens. In this context, organisms must elicit and regulate effective immune responses to protect their health while avoiding immunopathology. However, most of our knowledge about the function and dynamics of immune responses comes from laboratory studies performed on inbred mice in highly controlled environments with limited exposure to infection. Natural populations, on the other hand, exhibit wide genetic and environmental diversity. We argue that now is the time for immunology to be taken into the wild. The goal of ‘wild immunology’ is to link immune phenotype with host fitness in natural environments. To achieve this requires relevant measures of immune responsiveness that are both applicable to the host–parasite interaction under study and robustly associated with measures of host and parasite fitness. Bringing immunology to nonmodel organisms and linking that knowledge host fitness, and ultimately population dynamics, will face difficult challenges, both technical (lack of reagents and annotated genomes) and statistical (variation among individuals and populations). However, the affordability of new genomic technologies will help immunologists, ecologists and evolutionary biologists work together to translate and test our current knowledge of immune mechanisms in natural systems. From this approach, ecologists will gain new insight into mechanisms relevant to host health and fitness, while immunologists will be given a measure of the real‐world health impacts of the immune factors they study. Thus, wild immunology can be the missing link between laboratory‐based immunology and human, wildlife and domesticated animal health.
Phenotypic variation arising from populations adapting to different niches has a complex underlying genetic architecture. A major challenge in modern biology is to identify the causative variants driving phenotypic variation. Recently, the baker’s yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae has emerged as a powerful model for dissecting complex traits. However, past studies using a laboratory strain were unable to reveal the complete architecture of polygenic traits. Here, we present a linkage study using 576 recombinant strains obtained from crosses of isolates representative of the major lineages. The meiotic recombinational landscape appears largely conserved between populations; however, strain‐specific hotspots were also detected. Quantitative measurements of growth in 23 distinct ecologically relevant environments show that our recombinant population recapitulates most of the standing phenotypic variation described in the species. Linkage analysis detected an average of 6.3 distinct QTLs for each condition tested in all crosses, explaining on average 39% of the phenotypic variation. The QTLs detected are not constrained to a small number of loci, and the majority are specific to a single cross‐combination and to a specific environment. Moreover, crosses between strains of similar phenotypes generate greater variation in the offspring, suggesting the presence of many antagonistic alleles and epistatic interactions. We found that subtelomeric regions play a key role in defining individual quantitative variation, emphasizing the importance of the adaptive nature of these regions in natural populations. This set of recombinant strains is a powerful tool for investigating the complex architecture of polygenic traits.
Understanding the genetic architecture of phenotypic variation in natural populations is a fundamental goal of evolutionary genetics. Wild Soay sheep ( Ovis aries ) have an inherited polymorphism for horn morphology in both sexes, controlled by a single autosomal locus, Horns . The majority of males have large normal horns, but a small number have vestigial, deformed horns, known as scurs; females have either normal horns, scurs or no horns (polled). Given that scurred males and polled females have reduced fitness within each sex, it is counterintuitive that the polymorphism persists within the population. Therefore, identifying the genetic basis of horn type will provide a vital foundation for understanding why the different morphs are maintained in the face of natural selection. We conducted a genome‐wide association study using ∼36 000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and determined the main candidate for Horns as RXFP2 , an autosomal gene with a known involvement in determining primary sex characters in humans and mice. Evidence from additional SNPs in and around RXFP2 supports a new model of horn‐type inheritance in Soay sheep, and for the first time, sheep with the same horn phenotype but different underlying genotypes can be identified. In addition, RXFP2 was shown to be an additive quantitative trait locus (QTL) for horn size in normal‐horned males, accounting for up to 76% of additive genetic variation in this trait. This finding contrasts markedly from genome‐wide association studies of quantitative traits in humans and some model species, where it is often observed that mapped loci only explain a modest proportion of the overall genetic variation.
We investigated how landscape features influence gene flow of black bears by testing the relative support for 36 alternative landscape resistance hypotheses, including isolation by distance (IBD) in each of 12 study areas in the north central U.S. Rocky Mountains. The study areas all contained the same basic elements, but differed in extent of forest fragmentation, altitude, variation in elevation and road coverage. In all but one of the study areas, isolation by landscape resistance was more supported than IBD suggesting gene flow is likely influenced by elevation, forest cover, and roads. However, the landscape features influencing gene flow varied among study areas. Using subsets of loci usually gave models with the very similar landscape features influencing gene flow as with all loci, suggesting the landscape features influencing gene flow were correctly identified. To test if the cause of the variability of supported landscape features in study areas resulted from landscape differences among study areas, we conducted a limiting factor analysis. We found that features were supported in landscape models only when the features were highly variable. This is perhaps not surprising but suggests an important cautionary note – that if landscape features are not found to influence gene flow, researchers should not automatically conclude that the features are unimportant to the species’ movement and gene flow. Failure to investigate multiple study areas that have a range of variability in landscape features could cause misleading inferences about which landscape features generally limit gene flow. This could lead to potentially erroneous identification of corridors and barriers if models are transferred between areas with different landscape characteristics.
Vibrational signalling is a widespread form of animal communication and, in the form of sexual communication, has been generally regarded as inherently short‐range and a private communication channel, free from eavesdropping by generalist predators. A combination of fieldwork and laboratory experiments was used to test the hypothesis that predators can intercept and exploit such signals. First, we developed and characterized PCR primers specific for leafhoppers of the genus Aphrodes and specifically for the species Aphrodes makarovi . Spiders were collected from sites where leafhoppers were present and screened with these primers to establish which spider species were significant predators of this species during the mating period of these leafhoppers. Analysis using PCR of the gut contents of tangle‐web spiders, Enoplognatha ovata (Theridiidae), showed that they consume leafhoppers in the field at a greater rate when signalling adults were present than when nymphs were dominant, suggesting that the spiders were using these vibrations signals to find their prey. Playback and microcosm experiments then showed that E. ovata can use the vibrational signals of male leafhoppers as a cue during foraging and, as a result, killed significantly more male than female A. makarovi . Our results show, for the first time, that arthropod predators can exploit prey vibrational communication to obtain information about prey availability and use this information to locate and capture prey. This may be a widespread mechanism for prey location, one that is likely to be a major unrecognized driver of evolution in both predators and prey.