Evaluating the correlation between genome-wide diversity and the release of plastic phenotypic variation in experimental translocations to novel natural environments

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Abstract

Phenotypic reaction norms are often shaped and constrained by selection and are important for allowing organisms to respond to environmental change. However, selection cannot constrain reaction norms for environmental conditions that populations have not experienced. Consequently, cryptic neutral genetic variation for the reaction norm can accumulate such that a release of phenotypic variation occurs upon exposure to novel14 conditions. Most genomic diversity behaves as if functionally neutral. Therefore, genome-wide diversity metrics may correlate with levels of cryptic genetic variation and, as a result, exhibit a positive relationship with a release of phenotypic variation in novel environments. To test this hypothesis, we conducted translocations of juvenile brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) from 12 populations to novel uninhabited ponds that represented a gradient of environmental conditions. We assessed reaction norms for morphological traits (body size and four morphometric relative warps) across pond environmental gradients and evaluated the effect of genome-wide heterozygosity on phenotypic variability. All traits displayed plastic reaction norms. Overall, we found some evidence that a release of phenotypic variation consistent with cryptic genetic variation can occur in novel environmental conditions. However, the extent to which this release correlated with average genome-wide diversity was limited to only one of five traits examined. Our results suggest a limited link between genomic diversity26 and the accumulation of cryptic genetic variation in reaction norms. Similarly, reaction norms were constrained for many of the morphological traits examined. Past conditions may have constrained reaction norms in the putatively novel environments despite significant deviations from contemporary source population habitat. Additionally, as a generalist colonizing species brook trout may exhibit plastic phenotypes across a wide range of environmental conditions.

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Yates, M. C., & Fraser, D. J. (2021). Evaluating the correlation between genome-wide diversity and the release of plastic phenotypic variation in experimental translocations to novel natural environments. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 34(3), 439–450. https://doi.org/10.1111/jeb.13747

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