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Keywords:

  • Coregonus ;
  • gene transcription;
  • metabolism;
  • oxidative phosphorylation;
  • phenotypic divergence;
  • physiology;
  • speciation

Abstract

Across multiple lakes in North America, lake whitefish ( Coregonus clupeaformis) have independently evolved ‘dwarf’ and ‘normal’ sympatric species pairs that exhibit pronounced phenotypic and genetic divergence. In particular, traits associated with metabolism have been shown to be highly differentiated between whitefish species. Here, we examine the transcription of genes associated with the five mitochondrial and nuclear genome-encoded oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) complexes, the primary physiological mechanism responsible for the production of ATP, in whitefish species pairs from Cliff Lake and Webster Lake in Maine, USA. We observed OXPHOS gene transcription divergence between dwarf and normal whitefish in each of the two lakes, with the former exhibiting transcription upregulation for genes associated with each of the OXPHOS complexes. We also observed a significant influence of lake on transcription levels for some of the genes, indicating that inter-lake ecological or genetic differences are contributing to variation in OXPHOS gene transcription levels. Together, our results support the hypothesis that metabolic divergence is a critical adaptation involved in whitefish speciation and implicate OXPHOS gene upregulation as a factor involved in meeting the enhanced energetic demands of dwarf whitefish. Further studies are now needed to evaluate the contribution of genetically vs. plasticity driven variation in transcription associated with this critical physiological pathway.