Dissecting the Transcriptomic Basis of Phenotypic Evolution in an Aquatic Keystone Grazer

Mol Biol Evol. 2020 Feb 1;37(2):475-487. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msz234.


Knowledge of the molecular basis of phenotypic responses to environmental cues is key to understanding the process of adaptation. Insights to adaptation at an evolutionary time scale can be gained by observing organismal responses before and after a shift in environmental conditions, but such observations can rarely be made. Using the ecological and genomic model Daphnia, we linked transcriptomic responses and phosphorus (P)-related phenotypic traits under high and low P availability. We mapped weighted gene coexpression networks to traits previously assessed in resurrected ancient (600 years old) and modern Daphnia pulicaria from a lake with a historic shift in P-enrichment. Subsequently, we assessed evolutionary conservation or divergence in transcriptional networks of the same isolates. We discovered highly preserved gene networks shared between ancient genotypes and their modern descendants, but also detected clear evidence of transcriptional divergence between these evolutionarily separated genotypes. Our study highlights that phenotypic evolution is a result of molecular fine-tuning on different layers ranging from basic cellular responses to higher order phenotypes. In a broader context, these findings advance our understanding how populations are able to persist throughout major environmental shifts.

Keywords: Daphnia; coexpression networks; environmental impact; gene expression profiling; molecular evolution; palaeoecology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Arthropod Proteins / genetics
  • Daphnia / genetics
  • Daphnia / physiology*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Gene Regulatory Networks*
  • Genetics, Population
  • Lakes
  • Phenotype
  • Quantitative Trait Loci


  • Arthropod Proteins