Genomic islands of divergence or opportunities for introgression?

Proc Biol Sci. 2017 Mar 15;284(1850):20162414. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2016.2414.


In animals, introgression between species is often perceived as the breakdown of reproductive isolating mechanisms, but gene flow between incipient species can also represent a source for potentially beneficial alleles. Recently, genome-wide datasets have revealed clusters of differentiated loci ('genomic islands of divergence') that are thought to play a role in reproductive isolation and therefore have reduced gene flow. We use simulations to further examine the evolutionary forces that shape and maintain genomic islands of divergence between two subspecies of the migratory songbird, Swainson's thrush (Catharus ustulatus), which have come into secondary contact since the last glacial maximum. We find that, contrary to expectation, gene flow is high within islands and is highly asymmetric. In addition, patterns of nucleotide diversity at highly differentiated loci suggest selection was more frequent in a single ecotype. We propose a mechanism whereby beneficial alleles spread via selective sweeps following a post-glacial demographic expansion in one subspecies and move preferentially across the hybrid zone. We find no evidence that genomic islands are the result of divergent selection or reproductive isolation, rather our results suggest that differentiated loci both within and outside islands could provide opportunities for adaptive introgression across porous species boundaries.

Keywords: gene flow; genomic islands of divergence; introgression; speciation.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gene Flow*
  • Genetic Speciation
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Genomic Islands*
  • Reproductive Isolation*
  • Songbirds / classification*