Loci with higher levels of population differentiation than the neutral expectation are traditionally interpreted as evidence of ongoing selection that varies in space. This article emphasizes an alternative explanation that has been largely overlooked to date: in species subdivided into large subpopulations, enhanced differentiation can also be the signature left by the fixation of an unconditionally favorable mutation on its chromosomal neighborhood. This is because the hitchhiking effect is expected to diminish as the favorable mutation spreads from the deme in which it originated to other demes. To discriminate among the two alternative scenarios one needs to investigate how genetic structure varies along the chromosomal region of the locus. Local hitchhiking is shown to generate a single sharp peak of differentiation centered on the adaptive polymorphism and the standard signature of a selective sweep only in those subpopulations in which the allele is favored. Global hitchhiking produces two domes of differentiation on either side of the fixed advantageous mutation and signatures of a selective sweep in every subpopulation, albeit of different magnitude. Investigating population differentiation around a locus that strongly differentiates two otherwise genetically similar populations of the marine mussel Mytilus edulis, plausible evidence for the global hitchhiking hypothesis has been obtained. Global hitchhiking is a neglected phenomenon that might prove to be important in species with large population sizes such as many marine invertebrates.
© 2010 The Author(s). Evolution© 2010 The Society for the Study of Evolution.