Genomic resources for darters (Percidae: Etheostominae) provide insight into postzygotic barriers implicated in speciation

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Comparative genomic approaches are increasingly being used to study the evolution of reproductive barriers in nonmodel species. Although numerous studies have examined prezygotic isolation in darters (Percidae), investigations into postzygotic barriers have remained rare due to long generation times and a lack of genomic resources. Orangethroat and rainbow darters naturally hybridize and provide a remarkable example of male-driven speciation via character displacement. Backcross hybrids suffer from high mortality, which appears to promote behavioral isolation in sympatry. To investigate the genomic architecture of postzygotic isolation, we used Illumina and PacBio sequencing to generate a chromosome-level, annotated assembly of the orangethroat darter genome and high-density linkage maps for orangethroat and rainbow darters. We also analyzed genome-wide RADseq data from wild-caught adults of both species and laboratory-generated backcrosses to identify genomic regions associated with hybrid incompatibles. Several putative chromosomal translocations and inversions were observed between orangethroat and rainbow darters, suggesting structural rearrangements may underlie postzygotic isolation. We also found evidence of selection against recombinant haplotypes and transmission ratio distortion in backcross hybrid genomes, providing further insight into the genomic architecture of genetic incompatibilities. Notably, regions with high levels of genetic divergence between species were enriched for genes associated with developmental and meiotic processes, providing strong candidates for postzygotic isolating barriers. These findings mark significant contributions to our understanding of the genetic basis of reproductive isolation between species undergoing character displacement. Furthermore, the genomic resources presented here will be instrumental for studying speciation in darters, the most diverse vertebrate group in North America.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbermsz260
Pages (from-to)711-719
Number of pages9
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • speciation
  • hybridization
  • postzygotic isolation
  • genetic incompatibilities
  • chromosomal rearrangements

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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