Send to

Choose Destination
Mol Ecol. 2017 Jun;26(11):2993-3010. doi: 10.1111/mec.14090. Epub 2017 Apr 1.

Population transcriptomes reveal synergistic responses of DNA polymorphism and RNA expression to extreme environments on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau in a predatory bird.

Pan S1,2,3, Zhang T4, Rong Z5, Hu L1,3,6, Gu Z1,3, Wu Q1, Dong S7, Liu Q1,8, Lin Z1, Deutschova L9, Li X1, Dixon A2,10,11, Bruford MW2,12, Zhan X1,2.

Author information

Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beichen West Road, Beijing, 100101, China.
Institute of Zoology Joint Laboratory for Biocomplexity Research, Cardiff University, Beichen West Road, Beijing, 100101, China.
University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Yuquan Road, Beijing, 100049, China.
Key Laboratory of Adaptation and Evolution of Plateau Biota, Northwest Institute of Plateau Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xining, 810008, China.
Beijing Honortech Co. Ltd., Beijing, 102200, China.
BGI-Shenzhen, Shenzhen, 518083, China.
Key Laboratory of Biomedical Information Engineering of Ministry of Education, School of Life Science and Technology, Xi'an Jiaotong University, Xi'an, 710049, China.
State Key Laboratory of Earth Surface Processes and Resource Ecology & MOE Key Laboratory for Biodiversity Science and Ecological Engineering, College of Life Sciences, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, 100875, China.
Raptor Protection of Slovakia, Kuklovská 5, SK-841 04, Bratislava 4, Slovakia.
International Wildlife Consultants Ltd., PO Box 19, Carmarthen, SA33 5YL, UK.
Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi, PO Box 45553, Al Mamoura Building (A), Muroor Road, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Organisms and Environment Division, Cardiff School of Bioscience, Cardiff University, Cardiff, CF10 3AX, UK.


Low oxygen and temperature pose key physiological challenges for endotherms living on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (QTP). Molecular adaptations to high-altitude living have been detected in the genomes of Tibetans, their domesticated animals and a few wild species, but the contribution of transcriptional variation to altitudinal adaptation remains to be determined. Here we studied a top QTP predator, the saker falcon, and analysed how the transcriptome has become modified to cope with the stresses of hypoxia and hypothermia. Using a hierarchical design to study saker populations inhabiting grassland, steppe/desert and highland across Eurasia, we found that the QTP population is already distinct despite having colonized the Plateau <2000 years ago. Selection signals are limited at the cDNA level, but of only seventeen genes identified, three function in hypoxia and four in immune response. Our results show a significant role for RNA transcription: 50% of upregulated transcription factors were related to hypoxia responses, differentiated modules were significantly enriched for oxygen transport, and importantly, divergent EPAS1 functional variants with a refined co-expression network were identified. Conservative gene expression and relaxed immune gene variation may further reflect adaptation to hypothermia. Our results exemplify synergistic responses between DNA polymorphism and RNA expression diversity in coping with common stresses, underpinning the successful rapid colonization of a top predator onto the QTP. Importantly, molecular mechanisms underpinning highland adaptation involve relatively few genes, but are nonetheless more complex than previously thought and involve fine-tuned transcriptional responses and genomic adaptation.


Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau; RNA sequencing; adaptation; colonization; population transcriptome; saker falcon

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Wiley
Loading ...
Support Center