Background: Polymorphism is key to the evolutionary potential of populations. Understanding which factors shape levels of genetic diversity within genomes forms a central question in evolutionary genomics and is of importance for the possibility to infer episodes of adaptive evolution from signs of reduced diversity. There is an on-going debate on the relative role of mutation and selection in governing diversity levels. This question is also related to the role of recombination because recombination is expected to indirectly affect polymorphism via the efficacy of selection. Moreover, recombination might itself be mutagenic and thereby assert a direct effect on diversity levels.
Results: We used whole-genome re-sequencing data from domestic chicken (broiler and layer breeds) and its wild ancestor (the red jungle fowl) to study the relationship between genetic diversity and several genomic parameters. We found that recombination rate had the largest effect on local levels of nucleotide diversity. The fact that divergence (a proxy for mutation rate) and recombination rate were negatively correlated argues against a mutagenic role of recombination. Furthermore, divergence had limited influence on polymorphism.
Conclusions: Overall, our results are consistent with a selection model, in which regions within a short distance from loci under selection show reduced polymorphism levels. This conclusion lends further support from the observations of strong correlations between intergenic levels of diversity and diversity at synonymous as well as non-synonymous sites. Our results also demonstrate differences between the two domestic breeds and red jungle fowl, where the domestic breeds show a stronger relationship between intergenic diversity levels and diversity at synonymous and non-synonymous sites. This finding, together with overall lower diversity levels in domesticates compared to red jungle fowl, seem attributable to artificial selection during domestication.