Seasonal camouflage

Jones et al. detail a very cool example of introgression underlying adaptive colour polymorphism.

Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) maintain seasonal camouflage by molting to a white winter coat, but some hares remain brown during the winter in regions with low snow cover. We show that cis-regulatory variation controlling seasonal expression of the Agouti gene underlies this adaptive winter camouflage polymorphism. Genetic variation at Agouti clustered by winter coat color across multiple hare and jackrabbit species, revealing a history of recurrent interspecific gene flow. Brown winter coats in snowshoe hares likely originated from an introgressed black-tailed jackrabbit allele that has swept to high frequency in mild winter environments. These discoveries show that introgression of genetic variants that underlie key ecological traits can seed past and ongoing adaptation to rapidly changing environments.

July 23, 2018


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