Adaptive Evolution of Multiple Traits Through Multiple Mutations at a Single Gene

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Abstract

The identification of precise mutations is required for a complete understanding of the underlying molecular and evolutionary mechanisms driving adaptive phenotypic change. Using plasticine models in the field, we show that the light coat color of deer mice that recently colonized the light-colored soil of the Nebraska Sand Hills provides a strong selective advantage against visually hunting predators. Color variation in an admixed population suggests that this light Sand Hills phenotype is composed of multiple traits. We identified distinct regions within the Agouti locus associated with each color trait and found that only haplotypes associated with light trait values have evidence of selection. Thus, local adaptation is the result of independent selection on many mutations within a single locus, each with a specific effect on an adaptive phenotype, thereby minimizing pleiotropic consequences.

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