The hunt for the genes underlying ecological speciation has now closed in on a number of candidates, but making the link from genotype to phenotype continues to pose a significant challenge. This is partly because genetic studies in many systems remain impeded by long generation times or an inability to perform controlled crosses. Now, in this issue of Molecular Ecology, Malek et al. (2012) demonstrate the utility of a novel admixture mapping approach that can be used to identify genomic regions contributing to adaptive trait divergence between natural populations. Remarkably, they validate their approach by mapping traits associated with mate choice in a wild limnetic and benthic threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) species pair, finding several loci associated with male nuptial coloration and shape. While this study benefited from tried-and-true microsatellites in a well-characterized species with a detailed genetic map (and genome sequence), the field is quickly moving towards the use of next-generation sequencing, especially for nonmodel systems. The ability to characterize molecular polymorphisms for any system suggests that molecular ecologists working on virtually any species may benefit from applying Malek et al.'s approach, if naturally admixed populations are available.
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