Genetic analysis of differentiation among breeding ponds reveals a candidate gene for local adaptation in Rana arvalis.Mol Ecol. 2011 Apr; 20(8):1582-600.ME
One of the main questions in evolutionary and conservation biology is how geographical and environmental features of the landscape shape neutral and adaptive genetic variation in natural populations. The identification of genomic polymorphisms that account for adaptive variation can aid in finding candidate loci for local adaptation. Consequently, a comparison of spatial patterns in neutral markers and loci under selection may help disentangle the effects of gene flow, genetic drift and selection at the landscape scale. Many amphibians breed in wetlands, which differ in environmental conditions and in the degree of isolation, enhancing the potential for local adaptation. We used microsatellite markers to measure genetic differentiation among 17 local populations of Rana arvalis breeding in a network of wetlands. We found that locus RC08604 deviated from neutral expectations, suggesting that it is a good candidate for directional selection. We used a genetic network analysis to show that the allele distribution in this locus is correlated with habitat characteristics, whereas this was not the case at neutral markers that displayed a different allele distribution and population network in the study area. The graph approach illustrated the genomic heterogeneity (neutral loci vs. the candidate locus for directional selection) of gene exchange and genetic divergence among populations under directional selection. Limited gene flow between wetlands was only observed at the candidate genomic region under directional selection. RC08604 is partially located inside an up-regulated thyroid-hormone receptor (TRβ) gene coordinating the expression of other genes during metamorphosis and appears to be linked with variation in larval life-history traits found among R. arvalis populations. We suggest that directional selection on genes coding larval life-history traits is strong enough to maintain the divergence in these genomic regions, reducing the effective recombination of locally adapted alleles but not in other regions of the genome. Integrating this knowledge into conservation plans at the landscape scale will improve the design of management strategies to preserve adaptive genetic diversity in wetland networks.