Triangulating the genetic basis of adaptation to multifarious selection


M. E. Pfrender, Fax: 574-631-7413; E-mail:


Understanding how natural populations adapt to their local environments is a major research theme for ecological genomics. This endeavour begins by sleuthing for shared genetic similarities among unrelated natural populations sharing adaptive traits to documented selective pressures. When the selective pressures have low dimensionality, and the genetic response is localized to a few genes of major effect, this detective work is relatively straightforward. However, in the real world, populations face a complex mixture of selective pressures and many adaptive responses are the result of changes in quantitative traits that have a polygenic genetic basis. This complex relationship between environment and adaptation presents a significant challenge. How can we begin to identify drivers of adaptation in natural settings? In this issue of Molecular Ecology, Orsini et al. (2012) take advantage of the biological attributes of the freshwater microcrustacean Daphnia (Fig. 1) to disentangle multidimensional selection’s signature on the genome of populations that have repeatedly evolved adaptive responses to isolated selective pressures including predation, parasitism and anthropogenic changes in land use. Orsini et al. (2012) leverage a powerful combination of spatially structured populations in a geographic mosaic of environmental stressors, the historical archive of past genotypes preserved in lake-bottom sediments and selection experiments to identify sets of candidate genomic regions associated with adaptation in response to these three environmental stressors. This study provides a template for future investigation in ecological genomics, combining multiple experimental approaches with the genomic investigation of a well-studied ecological model species.

Figure 1.

Figure 1.

 Adult Daphnia magna carrying a resting egg in the brood pouch. The water flea Daphnia is a renowned ecological model system and rapidly developing as an ecological and environmental genomics model species. Photo credit Joachim Mergeay.