The genetic architecture of adaptation under migration-selection balance

Evolution. 2011 Jul;65(7):1897-911. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2011.01269.x. Epub 2011 Mar 29.


Many ecologically important traits have a complex genetic basis, with the potential for mutations at many different genes to shape the phenotype. Even so, studies of local adaptation in heterogeneous environments sometimes find that just a few quantitative trait loci (QTL) of large effect can explain a large percentage of observed differences between phenotypically divergent populations. As high levels of gene flow can swamp divergence at weakly selected alleles, migration-selection-drift balance may play an important role in shaping the genetic architecture of local adaptation. Here, we use analytical approximations and individual-based simulations to explore how genetic architecture evolves when two populations connected by migration experience stabilizing selection toward different optima. In contrast to the exponential distribution of allele effect sizes expected under adaptation without migration (Orr 1998), we find that adaptation with migration tends to result in concentrated genetic architectures with fewer, larger, and more tightly linked divergent alleles. Even if many small alleles contribute to adaptation at the outset, they tend to be replaced by a few large alleles under prolonged bouts of stabilizing selection with migration. All else being equal, we also find that stronger selection can maintain linked clusters of locally adapted alleles over much greater map distances than weaker selection. The common empirical finding of QTL of large effect is shown to be expected with migration in a heterogeneous landscape, and these QTL may often be composed of several tightly linked alleles of smaller effect.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Alleles
  • Animal Migration
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Gene Flow
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Phenotype
  • Plant Physiological Phenomena
  • Plants / genetics
  • Population Dynamics
  • Quantitative Trait Loci
  • Selection, Genetic*