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Mol Ecol. 2019 Jul 10. doi: 10.1111/mec.15176. [Epub ahead of print]

31° South: The physiology of adaptation to arid conditions in a passerine bird.

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Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Department of Zoology, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
Department of Bioinformatics and Genetics, Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm, Sweden.
China National GeneBank BGI-Shenzhen, Shenzhen, China.
Section for Ecology and Evolution, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.
State Key Laboratory of Genetic Resources and Evolution, Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming, China.
Center for Excellence in Animal Evolution and Genetics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming, China.
Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Department of Zoology and Entomology, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa.
Norwegian University of Science and Technology, University Museum, Trondheim, Norway.


Arid environments provide ideal ground for investigating the mechanisms of adaptive evolution. High temperatures and low water availability are relentless stressors for many endotherms, including birds; yet birds persist in deserts. While physiological adaptation likely involves metabolic phenotypes, the underlying mechanisms (plasticity, genetics) are largely uncharacterized. To explore this, we took an intra-specific approach that focused on a species that is resident over a mesic to arid gradient, the Karoo scrub-robin (Cercotrichas coryphaeus). Specifically, we integrated environmental (climatic and primary productivity), physiological (metabolic rates: a measure of energy expenditure), genotypic (genetic variation underlying the machinery of energy production) and microbiome (involved in processing food from where energy is retrieved) data, to infer the mechanism of physiological adaptation. We that found the variation in energetic physiology phenotypes and gut microbiome composition are associated with environmental features as well as with variation in genes underlying energy metabolic pathways. Specifically, we identified a small list of candidate adaptive genes, some of them with known ties to relevant physiology phenotypes. Together our results suggest that selective pressures on energetic physiology mediated by genes related to energy homeostasis and possibly microbiota composition may facilitate adaptation to local conditions and provide an explanation to the high avian intra-specific divergence observed in harsh environments. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.


aridity; birds; energetic physiology; microbiome; natural selection; target enrichment


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