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Widespread yet heterogeneous genomic divergence


Patrik Nosil, Fax: 0114 2220002; E-mail:


Genetic differentiation during adaptive divergence and speciation is heterogeneous among genomic regions. Some regions can be highly differentiated between populations, for example, because they harbour genes under divergent selection or those causing reproductive isolation and thus are resistant to gene flow. Other regions might be homogenized by gene flow and thus weakly differentiated. Debates persist about the number of differentiated regions expected under divergence with gene flow, and their causes, size, and genomic distribution. In this issue of Molecular Ecology, a study of freshwater stickleback used next-generation sequencing to shed novel insight into these issues (Roesti et al. 2012). Many genomic regions distributed across the genome were strongly differentiated, indicating divergence with gene flow can involve a greater number of loci than often thought. Nonetheless, differentiation of some regions, such as those near the centre of chromosomes where recombination is reduced, was strongly accentuated over others. Thus, divergence was widespread yet highly heterogeneous across the genome. Moreover, different population pairs varied in patterns of differentiation, illustrating how genomic divergence builds up across stages of the speciation process. The study demonstrates how variation in different evolutionary processes, such as selection and recombination rate, can combine to result in similar genomic patterns. Future work could focus on teasing apart the contributions of different processes for causing differentiation, a task facilitated by experimental manipulations.