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PLoS One. 2011;6(11):e26872. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026872. Epub 2011 Nov 1.

Does speciation between Arabidopsis halleri and Arabidopsis lyrata coincide with major changes in a molecular target of adaptation?

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Université Lille Nord de France, Lille, France.


Ever since Darwin proposed natural selection as the driving force for the origin of species, the role of adaptive processes in speciation has remained controversial. In particular, a largely unsolved issue is whether key divergent ecological adaptations are associated with speciation events or evolve secondarily within sister species after the split. The plant Arabidopsis halleri is one of the few species able to colonize soils highly enriched in zinc and cadmium. Recent advances in the molecular genetics of adaptation show that the physiology of this derived ecological trait involves copy number expansions of the AhHMA4 gene, for which orthologs are found in single copy in the closely related A. lyrata and the outgroup A. thaliana. To gain insight into the speciation process, we ask whether adaptive molecular changes at this candidate gene were contemporary with important stages of the speciation process. We first inferred the scenario and timescale of speciation by comparing patterns of variation across the genomic backgrounds of A. halleri and A. lyrata. Then, we estimated the timing of the first duplication of AhHMA4 in A. halleri. Our analysis suggests that the historical split between the two species closely coincides with major changes in this molecular target of adaptation in the A. halleri lineage. These results clearly indicate that these changes evolved in A. halleri well before industrial activities fostered the spread of Zn- and Cd-polluted areas, and suggest that adaptive processes related to heavy-metal homeostasis played a major role in the speciation process.

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