Urban evolutionary biology is the study of rapid evolutionary change in response to humans and our use of lands to support city dwellers. Because cities are relatively modern additions to the natural world, research on urban evolution tends to focus on microevolutionary change that has happened across a few to many hundreds of generations. These questions still fall under the broad purview of evolutionary ecology. But the severity, rapidity, and replication of environmental changes that drive evolution in this context make it worthy of specific attention. Urban evolution provides the opportunity to study the earliest stages of evolution in a context that is scientifically interesting and societally important. The newness of urban populations and their proximity to natural populations also creates challenges when trying to detect population genetic change. In a From the Cover article in this issue of Molecular Ecology, Mueller et al. (2020) use whole genome resequencing data to address some of these challenges while exploring genetic changes associated with urbanization in 3 replicate urban-rural burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) populations. Combining multiple approaches across these sample sites Mueller et al. find evidence for selection on genes whose function is related to synapses, neuron projections, brain connectivity, and cognitive function in general. That selection was parallel suggests brain processes were likely important for urban adaptation.
With the growing anthropogenic pressure on marine ecosystems, the need for efficient monitoring of biodiversity grows stronger. DNA metabarcoding of bulk samples is increasingly implemented in ecosystem assessments and is more cost-efficient and less time-consuming than monitoring based on morphology. However, before raw sequences are obtained from bulk samples, a profound number of methodological choices must be made. Here, we critically review the recent methods used for metabarcoding of marine bulk samples (including benthic, plankton and diet samples) and indicate how potential biases can be introduced throughout sampling, pre-processing, DNA extraction, marker and primer selection, PCR amplification and sequencing. From a total of 64 studies evaluated, our recommendations for best practices include to (a) consider DESS as a fixative instead of ethanol, (b) use the DNeasy PowerSoil kit for any samples containing traces of sediment, (c) not limit the marker selection to COI only, but preferably include multiple markers for higher taxonomic resolution, (d) avoid touchdown PCR profiles, (e) use a fixed annealing temperature for each primer pair when comparing across studies or institutes, (f) use a minimum of 3 PCR replicates and (g) include both negative and positive controls. Although the implementation of DNA metabarcoding still faces several technical complexities, we foresee wide-ranging advances in the near future, including improved bioinformatics for taxonomic assignment, sequencing of longer fragments, and the use of whole-genome information. Despite the bulk of biases involved in metabarcoding of bulk samples, it is clear that DNA metabarcoding provides a valuable tool in ecosystem assessments.
Monitoring the genetic structure of pathogen populations may be an economical and sensitive approach to quantify the impact of control on transmission dynamics, highlighting the need for a better understanding of changes in population genetic parameters as transmission declines. Here we describe the first population genetic analysis of the major human malaria parasites, Plasmodium falciparum (Pf) and Plasmodium vivax (Pv) populations following nationwide distribution of long-lasting insecticide treated nets (LLIN) in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Parasite isolates from pre- (2005-6) and post-LLIN (2010-2014) were genotyped using microsatellite markers. Despite parasite prevalence declining substantially (East Sepik: Pf=54.9-8.5%, Pv=35.7-5.6%, Madang: Pf=38.0-9.0%, Pv: 31.8-19.7%), genetically diverse and intermixing parasite populations remained. Pf diversity declined modestly post-LLIN relative to pre-LLIN (East Sepik: Rs = 7.1-6.4, He = 0.77-0.71; Madang: Rs= 8.2-6.1, He = 0.79-0.71). Unexpectedly, population structure present in pre-LLIN populations was lost post-LLIN, suggesting that more frequent human movement between provinces may have contributed to higher gene flow. Pv prevalence initially declined but increased again in one province, yet diversity remained high throughout the study period (East Sepik: Rs=11.4-9.3, He=0.83-0.80; Madang: Rs=12.2-14.5, He=0.85-0.88). Although genetic differentiation values increased between provinces over time, no significant population structure was observed at any time point. For both species, a decline in multiple infections and increasing clonal transmission and significant multilocus linkage disequilibrium (mLD) post-LLIN was a positive indicator of impact on the parasite population using microsatellite markers. These parameters may be useful adjuncts to traditional epidemiological tools in the early stages of transmission reduction.
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.
The fire ant Solenopsis invicta exists in two alternate social forms: monogyne nests contain a single reproductive queen and polygyne nests contain multiple reproductive queens. This colony-level social polymorphism corresponds with individual differences in queen physiology, queen dispersal patterns, and worker discrimination behaviors, all evidently regulated by an inversion-based supergene that spans more than 13Mb of a “social chromosome,” contains over 400 protein-coding genes, and rarely undergoes recombination. The specific mechanisms by which this supergene influences expression of the many distinctive features that characterize the alternate forms remain almost wholly unknown. To advance our understanding of these mechanisms, we explore effects of social chromosome genotype and natal colony social form on gene expression in virgin queens sampled as they embarked on nuptial flights, using RNA-sequencing of two important tissues. We observe relatively minor effects of natal social form, that is, of the social/developmental environment, on gene expression profiles, but substantial effects of genotype, including i) supergene-associated gene upregulation, ii) allele-specific expression, and iii) pronounced extra-supergene trans-regulatory effects. These findings, along with observed spatial variation in differential and allele-specific expression within the supergene region, highlight the complex gene regulatory landscape that emerged following evolutionary divergence of the inversion-mediated Sb haplotype from its homolog that largely retained the ancestral gene order. The distinctive social chromosome-linked gene expression trajectories we document at the onset of a queen’s reproductive life expand the known record of relevant molecular correlates of a complex social polymorphism and point to putative genetic underpinnings of the alternate social syndromes.
Populations of ectothermic vertebrates are vulnerable to environmental pollution and climate change because certain chemicals and high temperature can cause sex reversal during their larval development (i.e. genetically female individuals develop male phenotype or vice versa), which may distort population sex ratios. However, we have troublingly little information on sex reversals in natural populations, due to unavailability of genetic sex markers. Here we developed a genetic sexing method based on sex-linked single nucleotide polymorphism loci to study the prevalence and fitness consequences of sex reversal in agile frogs (Rana dalmatina). Out of 125 juveniles raised in laboratory without exposure to sex-reversing stimuli, 6 showed male phenotype but female genotype according to our markers. These individuals exhibited several signs of poor physiological condition, suggesting stress-induced sex reversal and inferior fitness prospects. Among 162 adults from 11 wild populations in North-Central Hungary, 20% of phenotypic males had female genotype according to our markers. These individuals occurred more frequently in areas of anthropogenic land use; this association was attributable to agriculture and less strongly to urban land use. Female-to-male sex-reversed adults had similar body mass as normal males. We recorded no events of male-to-female sex reversal either in the lab or in the wild. These results support recent suspicions that sex reversal is widespread in nature, and suggest that human-induced environmental changes may contribute to its pervasiveness. Furthermore, our findings indicate that sex-reversal is associated with stress and poor health in early life, but sex-reversed individuals surviving to adulthood may participate in breeding.
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.
Few phylogeographical studies exist for taxa inhabiting the Colorado Plateau province. We combined mitochondrial and genomic data with species distribution modeling to test Pleistocene hypotheses for Aphonopelma marxi, a large tarantula endemic to the plateau region. Mitochondrial and genomic analyses revealed that the species comprises at least three main clades that diverged in the Pleistocene. A clade distributed along the Mogollon Rim appears to have persisted in place during the last glacial maximum, whereas the other two clades probably colonized the central and northeastern portion of the species’ range from small refugial areas along river-carved canyons. Climate models support this hypothesis for the Mogollon Rim, but late glacial climate data appear too coarse to detect suitable areas in canyons. Locations of canyon refugia could not be inferred from genomic analyses due to missing data, encouraging us to explore the effect of missing loci in phylogeographical inferences using RADseq. In phylogenetic analyses, node support for major clades decreased with the addition of samples with significant amounts of missing data (more than 30%). Population genomic structure was greatly influenced by missing data, with the group membership of many taxa changing as samples with missing loci were added. Results from DAPC, a distance-based method, did not change as samples with significant amounts missing data were added. We conclude that the specific loci that are missing matters more than the number of missing loci, and that samples with missing data can still add information to RADseq-based analyses as long as results are interpreted cautiously.
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.
Benthic macrofauna is regularly used in monitoring programmes, however the vast majority of benthic eukaryotic biodiversity lies mostly in microscopic organisms, such as meiofauna (invertebrates < 1 mm) and protists, that rapidly responds to environmental change. These communities have traditionally been hard to sample and handle in the laboratory, but DNA sequencing has made such work less time consuming. Compared to DNA sequencing that captures both alive and dead organisms, environmental RNA (eRNA) can be used to better target alive communities. Here, we assessed the biodiversity of three known bioindicator microeukaryote groups (nematodes, foraminifera, and ciliates) in sediment samples collected at seven coastal sites along an organic carbon (OC) gradient. We aimed to investigate if eRNA shotgun sequencing can be used to simultaneously detect differences in 1) biodiversity of multiple microeukaryotic communities, and 2) functional feeding traits of nematodes. Results showed that biodiversity was lower for nematodes and foraminifera in high OC (6.2–6.9 %), when compared to low OC sediments (1.2–2.8 %). The beta diversity for all three groups were different along the OC gradient, as well as the classified feeding type of nematode genera (with more non-selective deposit feeders in high OC sediment). High relative abundant genera included nematode Sabatieria and foraminifera Elphidium in high OC, and Cryptocaryon-like ciliates in low OC sediments. Considering that future sequencing technologies are likely to decrease in cost, the use of eRNA shotgun sequencing to assess biodiversity of living benthic microeukaryotes could be a powerful tool in recurring monitoring programmes.
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.
Evaluating the factors that drive patterns of population differentiation in plants is critical for understanding several biological processes such as local adaptation and incipient speciation. Previous studies have given conflicting results regarding the significance of pollination mode, seed dispersal mode, mating system, growth form, and latitudinal region in shaping patterns of genetic structure, as estimated by FST values, and no study to date has tested their relative importance together across a broad scale. Here we assembled a 337-species dataset for seed plants from publications with data on FST from nuclear markers and species traits, including variables pertaining to the sampling scheme of each study. We used species traits, while accounting for sampling variables, to perform phylogenetic multiple regressions. Results demonstrated that FST values were higher for tropical, mixed-mating, non-woody species pollinated by small insects, indicating greater population differentiation, and lower for temperate, outcrossing trees pollinated by wind. Among the factors we tested, latitudinal region explained the largest portion of variance, followed by pollination mode, mating system and growth form, while seed dispersal mode did not significantly relate to FST. Our analyses provide the most robust and comprehensive evaluation to date of the main ecological factors predicted to drive population differentiation in seed plants, with important implications for understanding the basis of their genetic divergence. Our study is the first that we are aware of to robustly demonstrate greater population differentiation in tropical regions.