Genetic signatures of natural selection in response to air pollution in red spruce (Picea rubens, Pinaceae)



One of the most important drivers of local adaptation for forest trees is climate. Coupled to these patterns, however, are human-induced disturbances through habitat modification and pollution. The confounded effects of climate and disturbance have rarely been investigated with regard to selective pressure on forest trees. Here, we have developed and used a population genetic approach to search for signals of selection within a set of 36 candidate genes chosen for their putative effects on adaptation to climate and human-induced air pollution within five populations of red spruce (Picea rubens Sarg.), distributed across its natural range and air pollution gradient in eastern North America. Specifically, we used FST outlier and environmental correlation analyses to highlight a set of seven single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that were overly correlated with climate and levels of sulphate pollution after correcting for the confounding effects of population history. Use of three age cohorts within each population allowed the effects of climate and pollution to be separated temporally, as climate-related SNPs (= 7) showed the strongest signals in the oldest cohort, while pollution-related SNPs (= 3) showed the strongest signals in the youngest cohorts. These results highlight the usefulness of population genetic scans for the identification of putatively nonneutral evolution within genomes of nonmodel forest tree species, but also highlight the need for the development and application of robust methodologies to deal with the inherent multivariate nature of the genetic and ecological data used in these types of analyses.