Low but significant genetic differentiation underlies biologically meaningful phenotypic divergence in a large Atlantic salmon population

Low but significant genetic differentiation underlies biologically meaningful phenotypic divergence in a large Atlantic salmon population

Tutku Aykanat, Susan E Johnston, Panu Orell, Eero Niemelä, Jaakko Erkinaro, Craig Primmer
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/022178

Despite decades of research assessing the genetic structure of natural populations, the biological meaning of low yet significant genetic divergence often remains unclear due to a lack of associated phenotypic and ecological information. At the same time, structured populations with low genetic divergence and overlapping boundaries can potentially provide excellent models to study the eco-evolutionary dynamics in cases where high resolution genetic markers and relevant phenotypic and life history information are available. Here, we combined SNP-based population inference with extensive phenotypic and life history data to identify potential biological mechanisms driving fine scale sub-population differentiation in Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) from the Teno River, a major salmon river in Europe. Two sympatrically occurring sub-populations had low but significant genetic differentiation (FST = 0.018) and displayed marked differences in the distribution of life history strategies, including variation in juvenile growth rate, age at maturity and size within age classes. Large, late-maturing individuals were virtually absent from one of the two sub-populations and there were significant differences in juvenile growth rates and size-at-age after oceanic migration between individuals in the respective sub-populations. Our findings suggest that different eco-evolutionary processes affect each sub-population and that hybridization and subsequent selection may maintain low genetic differentiation without hindering adaptive divergence.

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