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Genetics of adaptation: Experimental test of a biotic mechanism driving divergence in traits and genes.

  • Author(s): Rennison, Diana J
  • Rudman, Seth M
  • Schluter, Dolph
  • et al.

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The genes underlying adaptations are becoming known, yet the causes of selection on genes-a key step in the study of the genetics of adaptation-remains uncertain. We address this issue experimentally in a threespine stickleback species pair showing exaggerated divergence in bony defensive armor in association with competition-driven character displacement. We used semi-natural ponds to test the role of a native predator in causing divergent evolution of armor and two known underlying genes. Predator presence/absence altered selection on dorsal spines and allele frequencies at the Msx2a gene across a generation. Evolutionary trajectories of alleles at a second gene, Pitx1, and the pelvic spine trait it controls, were more variable. Our experiment demonstrates how manipulation of putative selective agents helps to identify causes of evolutionary divergence at key genes, rule out phenotypic plasticity as a sole determinant of phenotypic differences, and eliminate reliance on fitness surrogates. Divergence of predation regimes in sympatric stickleback is associated with coevolution in response to resource competition, implying a cascade of biotic interactions driving species divergence. We suggest that as divergence proceeds, an increasing number of biotic interactions generate divergent selection, causing more evolution in turn. In this way, biotic adaptation perpetuates species divergence through time during adaptive radiation in an expanding number of traits and genes.

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