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Darwin's finches - an adaptive radiation constructed from ancestral genetic modules

By Carl-Johan Rubin, Erik Enbody, Mariya P. Dobreva, Arkhat Abzhanov, Brian W. Davis, Sangeet Lamichhaney, Mats E. Pettersson, Charlotte G Sprehn, Carlos A Valle, Karla Vasco, Ola Wallerman, B Rosemary Grant, Peter Grant, Leif Andersson

Posted 18 Sep 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.09.17.460815

Recent adaptive radiations are models for investigating mechanisms contributing to the evolution of biodiversity. An unresolved question is the relative importance of new mutations, ancestral variants, and introgressive hybridization for phenotypic evolution and speciation. Here we address this issue using Darwin's finches, which vary in size from an 8g warbler finch with a pointed beak to a 40g large ground finch with a massive blunt beak. We present a highly contiguous genome assembly for one of the species and investigate the genomic architecture underlying phenotypic diversity in the entire radiation. Admixture mapping for beak and body size in the small, medium and large ground finches revealed 28 loci showing strong genetic differentiation. These loci represent ancestral haplotype blocks with origins as old as the Darwin's finch phylogeny (1-2 million years). Genes expressed in the developing beak are overrepresented in these genomic regions. Frequencies of allelic variants at the 28 loci covary with phenotypic similarities in body and beak size across the Darwin's finch phylogeny. These ancestral haplotypes constitute genetic modules for selection, and act as key determinants of the exceptional phenotypic diversity of Darwin's finches. Such ancestral haplotype blocks can be critical for how species adapt to environmental variability and change.

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