Population genomics and the causes of local differentiation


Correspondence: Stephen J. Tonsor, Fax: 412 624 4759; E-mail: tonsor@pitt.edu


Exactly 50 years ago, a revolution in empirical population genetics began with the introduction of methods for detecting allelic variation using protein electrophoresis (Throckmorton 1962; Hubby 1963; Lewontin & Hubby 1966). These pioneering scientists showed that populations are chock-full of genetic variation. This variation was a surprise that required a re-thinking of evolutionary genetic heuristics. Understanding the causes for the maintenance of this variation became and remains a major area of research. In the process of addressing the causes, this same group of scientists documented geographical genetic structure (Prakash et al. 1969), spawning the continued accumulation of what is now a huge case study catalogue of geographical differentiation (e.g. Loveless & Hamrick 1984; Linhart & Grant 1996). Geographical differentiation is clearly quite common. Yet, a truly general understanding of the patterns in and causes of spatial genetic structure across the genome remains elusive. To what extent is spatial structure driven by drift and phylogeography vs. geographical differences in environmental sources of selection? What proportion of the genome participates? A general understanding requires range-wide data on spatial patterning of variation across the entire genome. In this issue of Molecular Ecology, Lasky et al. (2012) make important strides towards addressing these issues, taking advantage of three contemporary revolutions in evolutionary biology. Two are technological: high-throughput sequencing and burgeoning computational power. One is cultural: open access to data from the community of scientists and especially data sets that result from large collaborative efforts. Together, these developments may at last put answers within reach.