Integrating natural history collections and comparative genomics to study the genetic architecture of convergent evolution

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2019 Jul 22;374(1777):20180248. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2018.0248. Epub 2019 Jun 3.


Evolutionary convergence has been long considered primary evidence of adaptation driven by natural selection and provides opportunities to explore evolutionary repeatability and predictability. In recent years, there has been increased interest in exploring the genetic mechanisms underlying convergent evolution, in part, owing to the advent of genomic techniques. However, the current 'genomics gold rush' in studies of convergence has overshadowed the reality that most trait classifications are quite broadly defined, resulting in incomplete or potentially biased interpretations of results. Genomic studies of convergence would be greatly improved by integrating deep 'vertical', natural history knowledge with 'horizontal' knowledge focusing on the breadth of taxonomic diversity. Natural history collections have and continue to be best positioned for increasing our comprehensive understanding of phenotypic diversity, with modern practices of digitization and databasing of morphological traits providing exciting improvements in our ability to evaluate the degree of morphological convergence. Combining more detailed phenotypic data with the well-established field of genomics will enable scientists to make progress on an important goal in biology: to understand the degree to which genetic or molecular convergence is associated with phenotypic convergence. Although the fields of comparative biology or comparative genomics alone can separately reveal important insights into convergent evolution, here we suggest that the synergistic and complementary roles of natural history collection-derived phenomic data and comparative genomics methods can be particularly powerful in together elucidating the genomic basis of convergent evolution among higher taxa. This article is part of the theme issue 'Convergent evolution in the genomics era: new insights and directions'.

Keywords: amino acid; bird; enhancer; eusociality; pleiotropy; regulatory evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genome
  • Genomics
  • Invertebrates / classification
  • Invertebrates / genetics*
  • Phylogeny
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Vertebrates / classification
  • Vertebrates / genetics*

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.4468724