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Do aye-ayes echolocate? Studying convergent genomic evolution in a primate auditory specialist

By Richard J Bankoff, Michael Jerjos, Baily Hohman, M Elise Lauterbur, Logan Kistler, George H Perry

Posted 11 Apr 2016
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/048165

Several taxonomically distinct mammalian groups – certain microbats and cetaceans (e.g. dolphins) – share both morphological adaptations related to echolocation behavior and strong signatures of convergent evolution at the amino acid level across seven genes related to auditory processing. Aye-ayes (Daubentonia madagascariensis) are nocturnal lemurs with a derived auditory processing system. Aye-ayes tap rapidly along the surfaces of dead trees, listening to reverberations to identify the mines of wood-boring insect larvae; this behavior has been hypothesized to functionally mimic echolocation. Here we investigated whether there are signals of genomic convergence between aye-ayes and known mammalian echolocators. We developed a computational pipeline (BEAT: Basic Exon Assembly Tool) that produces consensus sequences for regions of interest from shotgun genomic sequencing data for non-model organisms without requiring de novo genome assembly. We reconstructed complete coding region sequences for the seven convergent echolocating bat-dolphin genes for aye-ayes and another lemur. Sequences were compared in a phylogenetic framework to those of bat and dolphin echolocators and appropriate non-echolocating outgroups. Our analysis reaffirms the existence of amino acid convergence at these loci among echolocating bats and dolphins; we also detected unexpected signals of convergence between echolocating bats and both mice and elephants. However, we observed no significant signal of amino acid convergence between aye-ayes and echolocating bats and dolphins; our results thus suggest that aye-aye tap-foraging auditory adaptations represent distinct evolutionary innovations. These results are also consistent with a developing consensus that convergent behavioral ecology is not necessarily a reliable guide to convergent molecular evolution.

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