Very little is known about genetic factors that regulate life history transitions during ontogeny. Closely related tiger salamanders (Ambystoma species complex) show extreme variation in metamorphic timing, with some species foregoing metamorphosis altogether, an adaptive trait called paedomorphosis. Previous studies identified a major effect quantitative trait locus (met1) for metamorphic timing and expression of paedomorphosis in hybrid crosses between the biphasic Eastern tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum tigrinum) and the paedomorphic Mexican axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum). We used existing hybrid mapping panels and a newly created hybrid cross to map the met1 genomic region and determine the effect of met1 on larval growth, metamorphic timing, and gene expression in the brain. We show that met1 maps to the position of a urodele-specific chromosome rearrangement on linkage group 2 that uniquely brought functionally associated genes into linkage. Furthermore, we found that more than 200 genes were differentially expressed during larval development as a function of met1 genotype. This list of differentially expressed genes is enriched for proteins that function in the mitochondria, providing evidence of a link between met1, thyroid hormone signaling, and mitochondrial energetics associated with metamorphosis. Finally, we found that met1 significantly affected metamorphic timing in hybrids, but not early larval growth rate. Collectively, our results show that met1 regulates species and morph-specific patterns of brain transcription and life history variation.
Keywords: QTL; amphibian; comparative genomics; linkage mapping; metamorphic timing; microarray.