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Mol Ecol. 2011 May;20(10):2100-10. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2011.05089.x. Epub 2011 Apr 5.

The molecular genetics of clinal variation: a case study of ebony and thoracic trident pigmentation in Drosophila melanogaster from eastern Australia.

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Department of Genetics, and Centre for Environmental Stress & Adaptation Research, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Melbourne 3001, Australia.


Widespread pigmentation diversity coupled with a well-defined genetic system of melanin synthesis and patterning in Drosophila provides an excellent opportunity to study phenotypes undergoing evolutionary change. Pigmentation variation is highly correlated with different ecological variables and is thought to reflect adaptations to different environments. Several studies have linked candidate genes from Drosophila melanogaster to intra-population variation and interspecific morphological divergence, but less clearly to variation among populations forming pigmentation clines. We characterized a new thoracic trident pigmentation cline in D. melanogaster populations from eastern Australia, and applied a candidate gene approach to explain the majority of the geographically structured phenotypic variation. More melanized populations from higher latitudes tended to express less ebony than their tropical counterparts, and an independent artificial selection experiment confirmed this association. By partitioning temperature dependent effects, we showed that the genetic differences underlying clinal patterns for trident variation at 25 °C do not explain the patterns observed at 16 °C. Changes in thoracic trident pigmentation could be a common evolutionary response to climatically mediated environmental pressures. On the Australian east coast most of the changes appear to be associated with regulatory divergence of the ebony gene but this depends on temperature.

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