Winter storms drive rapid phenotypic, regulatory, and genomic shifts in the green anole lizard

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Science  04 Aug 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6350, pp. 495-498
DOI: 10.1126/science.aam5512

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Extreme events bring rapid change

Environmental adaptation is often considered a slow process. However, extreme events, such as heat waves or cold snaps, can produce rapid changes, both morphologically and genetically. Campbell-Staton et al. studied a population of green anole lizards during an extreme cold snap in the southern United States (see the Perspective by Grant). After the cold snap, the lizards showed greater cold resistance and displayed changes in six genomic regions that are important for regulation of function in the cold. Understanding how extreme climatic events influence adaptive potential will become increasingly important as the climate becomes more volatile.

Science, this issue p. 495; see also p. 451


Extreme environmental perturbations offer opportunities to observe the effects of natural selection in wild populations. During the winter of 2013–2014, the southeastern United States endured an extreme cold event. We used thermal performance, transcriptomics, and genome scans to measure responses of lizard populations to storm-induced selection. We found significant increases in cold tolerance at the species’ southern limit. Gene expression in southern survivors shifted toward patterns characteristic of northern populations. Comparing samples before and after the extreme winter, 14 genomic regions were differentiated in the surviving southern population; four also exhibited signatures of local adaptation across the latitudinal gradient and implicate genes involved in nervous system function. Together, our results suggest that extreme winter events can rapidly produce strong selection on natural populations at multiple biological levels that recapitulate geographic patterns of local adaptation.

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