1. DISENTANGLING THE EFFECTS OF GEOGRAPHIC AND ECOLOGICAL ISOLATION ON GENETIC DIFFERENTIATION
Populations can be genetically isolated both by geographic distance and by differences in their ecology or environment that decrease the rate of successful migration. Empirical studies often seek to investigate the relationship between genetic differentiation and some ecological variable(s) while accounting for geographic distance, but common approaches to this problem (such as the partial Mantel test) have a number of drawbacks. In this article, we present a Bayesian method that enables users to quantify the relative contributions of geographic distance and ecological distance to genetic differentiation between sampled populations or individuals. We model the allele frequencies in a set of populations at a set of unlinked loci as spatially correlated Gaussian processes, in which the covariance structure is a decreasing function of both geographic and ecological distance. Parameters of the model are estimated using a Markov chain Monte Carlo algorithm. We call this method Bayesian Estimation of Differentiation in Alleles by Spatial Structure and Local Ecology (BEDASSLE), and have implemented it in a user-friendly format in the statistical platform R. We demonstrate its utility with a simulation study and empirical applications to human and teosinte data sets.
2. INTEGRATING LANDSCAPE GENOMICS AND SPATIALLY EXPLICIT APPROACHES TO DETECT LOCI UNDER SELECTION IN CLINAL POPULATIONS
Uncovering the genetic basis of adaptation hinges on the ability to detect loci under selection. However, population genomics outlier approaches to detect selected loci may be inappropriate for clinal populations or those with unclear population structure because they require that individuals be clustered into populations. An alternate approach, landscape genomics, uses individual-based approaches to detect loci under selection and reveal potential environmental drivers of selection. We tested four landscape genomics methods on a simulated clinal population to determine their effectiveness at identifying a locus under varying selection strengths along an environmental gradient. We found all methods produced very low type I error rates across all selection strengths, but elevated type II error rates under “weak” selection. We then applied these methods to an AFLP genome scan of an alpine plant, Campanula barbata, and identified five highly supported candidate loci associated with precipitation variables. These loci also showed spatial autocorrelation and cline patterns indicative of selection along a precipitation gradient. Our results suggest that landscape genomics in combination with other spatial analyses provides a powerful approach for identifying loci potentially under selection and explaining spatially complex interactions between species and their environment.
Ultraconserved elements (UCEs), stretches of DNA that are identical between distantly related species, are enigmatic genomic features whose function is not well understood. First identified and characterized in mammals, UCEs have been proposed to play important roles in gene regulation, RNA processing, and maintaining genome integrity. However, because all of these functions can tolerate some sequence variation, their ultraconserved and ultraselected nature is not explained. We investigated whether there are highly conserved DNA elements without genic function in distantly related plant genomes. We compared the genomes of Arabidopsis thaliana and Vitis vinifera; species that diverged ∼115 million years ago (Mya). We identified 36 highly conserved elements with at least 85% similarity that are longer than 55 bp. Interestingly, these elements exhibit properties similar to mammalian UCEs, such that we named them UCE-like elements (ULEs). ULEs are located in intergenic or intronic regions and are depleted from segmental duplications. Like UCEs, ULEs are under strong purifying selection, suggesting a functional role for these elements. As their mammalian counterparts, ULEs show a sharp drop of A+T content at their borders and are enriched close to genes encoding transcription factors and genes involved in development, the latter showing preferential expression in undifferentiated tissues. By comparing the genomes of Brachypodium distachyon and Oryza sativa, species that diverged ∼50 Mya, we identified a different set of ULEs with similar properties in monocots. The identification of ULEs in plant genomes offers new opportunities to study their possible roles in genome function, integrity, and regulation.