Transcriptomic imprints of adaptation to fresh water: parallel evolution of osmoregulatory gene expression in the Alewife

Jonathan P. Velotta, Jill L. Wegrzyn, Samuel Ginzburg, Lin Kang, Sergiusz Czesny, Rachel J. O'Neill, Stephen D. McCormick, Pawel Michalak, Eric T. Schultz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Comparative approaches in physiological genomics offer an opportunity to understand the functional importance of genes involved in niche exploitation. We used populations of Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) to explore the transcriptional mechanisms that underlie adaptation to fresh water. Ancestrally anadromous Alewives have recently formed multiple, independently derived, landlocked populations, which exhibit reduced tolerance of saltwater and enhanced tolerance of fresh water. Using RNA-seq, we compared transcriptional responses of an anadromous Alewife population to two landlocked populations after acclimation to fresh (0 ppt) and saltwater (35 ppt). Our results suggest that the gill transcriptome has evolved in primarily discordant ways between independent landlocked populations and their anadromous ancestor. By contrast, evolved shifts in the transcription of a small suite of well-characterized osmoregulatory genes exhibited a strong degree of parallelism. In particular, transcription of genes that regulate gill ion exchange has diverged in accordance with functional predictions: freshwater ion-uptake genes (most notably, the ‘freshwater paralog’ of Na+/K+-ATPase α-subunit) were more highly expressed in landlocked forms, whereas genes that regulate saltwater ion secretion (e.g. the ‘saltwater paralog’ of NKAα) exhibited a blunted response to saltwater. Parallel divergence of ion transport gene expression is associated with shifts in salinity tolerance limits among landlocked forms, suggesting that changes to the gill's transcriptional response to salinity facilitate freshwater adaptation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)831-848
Number of pages18
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017


  • Alosa pseudoharengus
  • Na/KATPase α1 paralogs
  • RNA-seq
  • functional genomics
  • gene expression
  • gill
  • ion regulation
  • osmoregulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


Dive into the research topics of 'Transcriptomic imprints of adaptation to fresh water: parallel evolution of osmoregulatory gene expression in the Alewife'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this