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Keywords:

  • coalescent;
  • epistasis;
  • genetic drift;
  • standing variation

Abstract

Adaptation to novel environments arises either from new beneficial mutations or by utilizing pre-existing genetic variation. When standing variation is used as the source of new adaptation, fitness effects of alleles may be altered through an environmental change. Alternatively, changes in epistatic genetic backgrounds may convert formerly neutral mutations into beneficial alleles in the new genetic background. By extending the coalescent theory to describe the genealogical histories of two interacting loci, I here investigated the hitchhiking effect of epistatic selection on the amount and pattern of sequence diversity at the linked neutral regions. Assuming a specific form of epistasis between two new mutations that are independently neutral, but together form a coadapted haplotype, I demonstrate that the footprints of epistatic selection differ markedly between the interacting loci depending on the order and relative timing of the two mutational events, even though both mutations are equally essential for the formation of an adaptive gene combination. Our results imply that even when neutrality tests could detect just a single instance of adaptive substitution, there may, in fact, be numerous other hidden mutations that are left undetected, but still play indispensable roles in the evolution of a new adaptation. We expect that the integration of the coalescent framework into the general theory of polygenic inheritance would clarify the connection between factors driving phenotypic evolution and their consequences on underlying DNA sequence changes, which should further illuminate the evolutionary foundation of coadapted systems.