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Multi locus analysis of Pristionchus pacificus on La Réunion Island reveals an evolutionary history shaped by multiple introductions, constrained dispersal events and rare out-crossing


Ralf J. Sommer, Fax: ++49 7071 601 498; E-mail:


Pristionchus pacificus, recently established as a model organism in evolutionary biology, is a cosmopolitan nematode that has a necromenic association with scarab beetles. The diverse array of host beetle species and habitat types occupied by P. pacificus make it a good model for investigating local adaptation to novel environments. Presence of P. pacificus on La Réunion Island, a young volcanic island with a dynamic geological history and a wide variety of ecozones, facilitates such investigation in an island biogeographic setting. Microsatellite data from 20 markers and 223 strains and mitochondrial sequence data from 272 strains reveal rich genetic diversity among La Réunion P. pacificus isolates, shaped by differentially timed introductions from diverse sources and in association with different beetle species. Distinctions between volcanic zones and between arid western and wet eastern climatic zones have likely limited westward dispersal of recently colonized lineages and maintained a genetic distinction between eastern and western clades. The highly selfing lifestyle of P. pacificus contributes to the strong fine-scale population structure detected, with each beetle host harbouring strongly differentiated assemblages of strains. Periodic out-crossing generates admixture between genetically diverse lineages, creating a diverse array of allelic combinations likely to increase the evolutionary potential of the species and facilitate adaptation to local environments and beetle hosts.

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