Selection on ancient variations drives the adaptive radiation of Metrosideros across the Hawaiian archipelago

Some of the most spectacular adaptive radiations begin with founder populations on remote islands. How genetically limited founder populations give rise to the striking phenotypic and ecological diversity characteristic of adaptive radiations is a paradox of evolutionary biology.

We conducted an evolutionary genomic analysis of genus Metrosideros, a landscape-dominant, incipient adaptive radiation of woody plants that spans a striking range of phenotypes and environments across the Hawaiian Islands. Using nanopore-sequencing, we created a chromosome-level genome assembly for M. polymorpha var. incana and analyzed whole-genome sequences of 131 individuals from 11 taxa sampled across the islands.

We found evidence of population structure that grouped taxa by island. Demographic modeling showed concordance between the divergence times of island-specific lineages and the geological formation of individual islands. Gene flow was also detected within and between island taxa, suggesting a complex reticulated evolutionary history. We investigated genomic regions with increased differentiation as these regions may harbor variants involved in local adaptation or reproductive isolation, thus forming the genomic basis of adaptive radiation. We discovered differentiation outliers have arisen from balancing selection on ancient divergent haplotypes that formed before the initial colonization of the archipelago. These regions experienced recurrent divergent selection as lineages colonized and diversified on new islands, and hybridization likely facilitated the transfer of these ancient variants between taxa. Balancing selection on multiple ancient haplotypes–or time-tested variants–may help to explain how lineages with limited gene pools can rapidly diversify to fill myriad ecological niches on remote islands.

Authors: Jae Young Choi, Xiaoguang Dai, Julie Z. Peng, Priyesh Rughani, Scott Hickey, Eoghan Harrington, Sissel Juul, Julien Ayroles, Michael Purugganan, Elizabeth A. Stacy