Deakin University
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Genetics and Plasticity Are Responsible for Ecogeographical Patterns in a Recent Invasion

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journal contribution
posted on 2022-03-11, 00:00 authored by K C Stuart, W B Sherwin, Adam CardiliniAdam Cardilini, L A Rollins
Patterns of covariation between phenotype and environment are presumed to be reflective of local adaptation, and therefore translate to a meaningful influence on an individual’s overall fitness within that specific environment. However, these environmentally driven patterns may be the result of numerous and interacting processes, such as genetic variation, epigenetic variation, or plastic non-heritable variation. Understanding the relative importance of different environmental variables on underlying genetic patterns and resulting phenotypes is fundamental to understanding adaptation. Invasive systems are excellent models for such investigations, given their propensity for rapid evolution. This study uses reduced representation sequencing data paired with phenotypic data to examine whether important phenotypic traits in invasive starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) within Australia appear to be highly heritable (presumably genetic) or appear to vary with environmental gradients despite underlying genetics (presumably non-heritable plasticity). We also sought to determine which environmental variables, if any, play the strongest role shaping genetic and phenotypic patterns. We determined that environmental variables—particularly elevation—play an important role in shaping allelic trends in Australian starlings and may also reinforce neutral genetic patterns resulting from historic introduction regime. We examined a range of phenotypic traits that appear to be heritable (body mass and spleen mass) or negligibly heritable (e.g. beak surface area and wing length) across the starlings’ Australian range. Using SNP variants associated with each of these phenotypes, we identify key environmental variables that correlate with genetic patterns, specifically that temperature and precipitation putatively play important roles shaping phenotype in this species. Finally, we determine that overall phenotypic variation is correlated with underlying genetic variation, and that these interact positively with the level of vegetation variation within a region, suggesting that ground cover plays an important role in shaping selection and plasticity of phenotypic traits within the starlings of Australia.



Frontiers in Genetics





Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal