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Evol Dev. 2014 Jul-Aug;16(4):247-57. doi: 10.1111/ede.12087. Epub 2014 Jun 11.

Hidden genetic variation evolves with ecological specialization: the genetic basis of phenotypic plasticity in Arctic charr ecomorphs.

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Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, 50 Stone Road West, ON, Canada, N1G 2W1.


The genetic variance that determines phenotypic variation can change across environments through developmental plasticity and in turn play a strong role in evolution. Induced changes in genotype-phenotype relationships should strongly influence adaptation by exposing different sets of heritable variation to selection under some conditions, while also hiding variation. Therefore, the heritable variation exposed or hidden from selection is likely to differ among habitats. We used ecomorphs from two divergent populations of Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus) to test the prediction that genotype-phenotype relationships would change in relation to environment. If present over several generations this should lead to divergence in genotype-phenotype relationships under common conditions, and to changes in the amount and type of hidden genetic variance that can evolve. We performed a common garden experiment whereby two ecomorphs from each of two Icelandic lakes were reared under conditions that mimicked benthic and limnetic prey to induce responses in craniofacial traits. Using microsatellite based genetic maps, we subsequently detected QTL related to these craniofacial traits. We found substantial changes in the number and type of QTL between diet treatments and evidence that novel diet treatments can in some cases provide a higher number of QTL. These findings suggest that selection on phenotypic variation, which is both genetically and environmentally determined, has shaped the genetic architecture of adaptive divergence in Arctic charr. However, while adaptive changes are occurring in the genome there also appears to be an accumulation of hidden genetic variation for loci not expressed in the contemporary environment.

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