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Mol Biol Evol. 2006 Dec;23(12):2370-8. Epub 2006 Sep 8.

The transcriptomics of ecological convergence between 2 limnetic coregonine fishes (Salmonidae).

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Québec Océan, Département de Biologie, Université Laval, Québec, Canada.

Erratum in

  • Mol Biol Evol. 2007 Mar;24(3):892.


Species living in comparable habitats often display strikingly similar patterns of specialization, suggesting that natural selection can lead to predictable evolutionary changes. Elucidating the genomic basis underlying such adaptive phenotypic changes is a major goal in evolutionary biology. Increasing evidence indicates that natural selection would first modulate gene regulation during the process of population divergence. Previously, we showed that parallel phenotypic adaptations of the dwarf whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis) ecotype to the limnetic trophic niche involved parallel transcriptional changes at the same genes involved in muscle contraction and energetic metabolism relative to the sympatric normal ecotype. Here, we tested whether the same genes are also implicated in a limnetic specialist species, the cisco (Coregonus artedi), which is the most likely competitor of dwarf whitefish. Significant upregulation was detected in cisco at the same 6 candidate genes functionally involved in modulating swimming activity, namely 5 variants of a major protein of fast muscle and 1 putative catalytic crystallin enzyme. Moreover, 3 of 5 variants and the same putative catalytic crystallin enzyme were upregulated in cisco relative to the dwarf ecotype, indicating a greater physiological potential of the former for exploiting the limnetic trophic niche. This study provides the first empirical evidence that recent, parallel phenotypic evolution toward the use of the same ecological niche occupied by a specialist competitor involved similar adaptive changes in expression at the same genes. As such, this study provides strong support to the general hypothesis that directional selection acting on gene regulation may promote rapid phenotypic divergence and ultimately speciation.

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