Killer genetic differentiation

RAD whales

Like most of you out there, I sometimes get bogged down in literature, and the pressure to keep up with new methods can lead to a towering “to-read” folder. I feel forced to read many of these papers no matter how deep the stacks get due to the desire to keep up with new analyses or techniques.

But sometimes I read a paper just because it captures the basic passion for wildlife that made me interested in biology in the first place. That’s the case with this investigation into the population genomics of killer whales (!!!) by Andre Moura and colleagues in Molecular Ecology.

We test the hypothesis that populations representing sympatric ecotypes (e.g. residents and transients) will show patterns of differentiation that reflect selection at functional loci. More broadly, we investigate the hypothesis that in addition to the process of genetic drift, disruptive selection is driving the differentiation of killer whale ecotypes in sympatry.

Moura and colleagues used the largest set of molecular data for killer whales to test multiple demographic hypotheses and document genetic structure of whale populations across the globe:

Taken together, these data suggest that differentiation in sympatry is based in part on ecological processes, but that differentiation is likely being facilitated by the life history of killer whales, founder events and differentiation by drift.

A solid investigation using great data and analyses. But honestly, I was just in it for the whales.

Moura A.E., Roy Chaudhuri, Margaret A. Hughes, Andreanna J. Welch, Ryan R. Reisinger, P. J. Nico de Bruyn, Marilyn E. Dahlheim, Neil Hall & A. Rus Hoelzel (2014). Population genomics of the killer whale indicates ecotype evolution in sympatry involving both selection and drift, Molecular Ecology, 23 (21) 5179-5192. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/mec.12929

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About Rob Denton

I'm a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at UConn. I'm most interested in understanding the evolutionary/ecological consequences of strange reproduction in salamanders (unisexual Ambystoma). Topics I'm likely to write about: population and landscape genetics, mitonuclear interactions, polyploidy, and reptiles/amphibians.
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