Allele-specific expression reveals gene-environment interactions driving ecotype divergence in Malawi cichlid crosses
Stockert, Joseph Ives
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During the early stages of adaptive radiation, species diverge through local adaptation to spatially distinct microhabitats (Streelman and Danley 2003). The evolutionary history of spatial niche differentiation is poorly understood in the Lake Malawi cichlid flock because both the rock-dwelling and sand-dwelling ecotypes appear scattered across many clades, meaning that either multiple divergence events or hybridization may have occurred (Hulsey et al. 2017). In order to shed light on the evolutionary mechanisms of the rock/sand divergence, we sequenced neural transcriptomes from experimental F1 hybrids that preferentially restricted courtship behaviors to rocky or sandy territories based on social setting in lab aquariums. We then analyzed these RNA data for signals of allele-specific expression in order to identify interactions between genes and environment (GxE) and cis-regulatory elements that are involved with local adaptation in cichlids.