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The genetic basis of dispersal in a vertebrate metapopulation.

Molecular Ecology 2024 Februrary 24
Dispersal affects evolutionary processes by changing population size and genetic composition, influencing the viability and persistence of populations. Investigating which mechanisms underlie variation in dispersal phenotypes and whether populations harbour adaptive potential for dispersal is crucial to understanding the eco-evolutionary dynamics of this important trait. Here, we investigate the genetic architecture of dispersal among successfully recruited individuals in an insular metapopulation of house sparrows. We use an extensive long-term individual-based ecological data set and high-density single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) genotypes for over 2500 individuals. We conducted a genome-wide association study (GWAS), and found a relationship between dispersal probability and a SNP located near genes known to regulate circadian rhythm, glycogenesis and exercise performance, among other functions. However, this SNP only explained 3.8% of variance, suggesting that dispersal is a polygenic trait. We then used an animal model to estimate heritable genetic variation (σA 2 ), which composes 10% of the total variation in dispersal probability. Finally, we investigated differences in σA 2 across populations occupying ecologically relevant habitat types (farm vs. non-farm) using a genetic groups animal model. We found different adaptive potentials across habitats, with higher mean breeding value, σA 2 , and heritability for the habitat presenting lower dispersal rates, suggesting also different roles of environmental variation. Our results suggest a complex genetic architecture of dispersal and demonstrate that adaptive potential may be environment dependent in key eco-evolutionary traits. The eco-evolutionary implications of such environment dependence and consequent spatial variation are likely to become ever more important with the increased fragmentation and loss of suitable habitats for many natural populations.

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