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Data from: Epigenetic divergence as a potential first step in darter speciation


Smith, Tracy A.; Martin, Michael D.; Nguyen, Michael; Mendelson, Tamra C. (2016), Data from: Epigenetic divergence as a potential first step in darter speciation, Dryad, Dataset,


Recent studies show that epigenetic variation in the form of DNA methylation may serve as a substrate for selection. Theory suggests that heritable epigenetic marks that increase fitness should increase in frequency in a population, and these changes may result in novel morphology, behaviour, or physiology, and ultimately reproductive isolation. Therefore, epigenetic variation might provide the first substrate for selection during the course of evolutionary divergence. This hypothesis predicts that populations in the earliest stages of divergence will differentiate in their methylome prior to any genetic differentiation. While several studies have investigated natural epigenetic variation, empirical studies that test predictions about its role in speciation are surprisingly scarce. Here, we investigate DNA methylation variation using an isoschizomeric digest method, Methyl-Sensitive Amplified Polymorphism, across multiple stages of evolutionary divergence in natural populations of North American stream fishes. We show that epigenetic differentiation between methylomes is greater than genetic divergence among closely related populations across two river drainages. Additionally, we demonstrate that epigenetic divergence is a stronger predictor of the strength of behavioural reproductive isolation and suggest that changes in the methylome could influence the evolution of reproductive isolation between species. Our findings suggest a role for epigenetics not only in the initiation of divergence, but also in the maintenance of species boundaries over greater evolutionary timescales.

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