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Evolution. 2014 Jun;68(6):1792-805. doi: 10.1111/evo.12390. Epub 2014 Mar 20.

Genetic architecture of skeletal evolution in European lake and stream stickleback.

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Zoological Institute, University of Basel, Vesalgasse, 1, CH-4051 Basel, Switzerland.


Advances in genomic techniques are greatly facilitating the study of molecular signatures of selection in diverging natural populations. Connecting these signatures to phenotypes under selection remains challenging, but benefits from dissections of the genetic architecture of adaptive divergence. We here perform quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping using 488 F2 individuals and 2011 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to explore the genetic architecture of skeletal divergence in a lake-stream stickleback system from Central Europe. We find QTLs for gill raker, snout, and head length, vertebral number, and the extent of lateral plating (plate number and height). Although two large-effect loci emerge, QTL effect sizes are generally small. Examining the neighborhood of the QTL-linked SNPs identifies several genes involved in bone formation, which emerge as strong candidate genes for skeletal evolution. Finally, we use SNP data from the natural source populations to demonstrate that some SNPs linked to QTLs in our cross also exhibit striking allele frequency differences in the wild, suggesting a causal role of these QTLs in adaptive population divergence. Our study paves the way for comparative analyses across other (lake-stream) stickleback populations, and for functional investigations of the candidate genes.


Effect size; Gasterosteus aculeatus; QTL mapping; RAD sequencing; lateral plate; vertebral number

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