Understanding the processes underlying speciation has long been a challenge to evolutionary biologists. This spurs from difficulties teasing apart the various mechanisms that contribute to the evolution of barriers to reproduction. The study by Rafati et al. (2018) in this issue of Molecular Ecology combines spatially explicit whole-genome resequencing with evaluation of differential gene expression across individuals with mixed ancestry to associate the genomic architecture of reproductive barriers with expression of reproductive incompatibilities. In a natural hybrid zone between rabbit subspecies, Oryctolagus cuniculus cuniculus and O. c. algirus (Figure 1), Rafati et al. (2018) use landscape-level patterns of allele frequency variation to identify potential candidate regions of the genome associated with reproductive isolation. These candidate regions are used to test predictions associated with the genomic architecture of reproductive barriers, including the role of structural rearrangements, enrichment of functional categories associated with incompatibilities, and the contribution of protein-coding versus regulatory changes. A lack of structural rearrangements and limited protein-coding changes in candidate regions point towards the importance of regulatory variation as major contributors to genetic incompatibilities, while functional enrichments indicate overrepresentation of genes associated with male infertility. To quantify phenotypic expression of proposed incompatibilities, the authors assess gene expression of experimental crosses. Extensive misregulation of gene expression within the testes of backcross hybrids relative to F1 and parental individuals provides an important link between genotype and phenotype, validating hypotheses developed from assessment of genomic architectures. Together, this work shows how pairing natural hybrid zones with experimental crosses can be used to link observations in nature to mechanistic underpinnings that may be tested experimentally.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics