Adaptive introgression underlies polymorphic seasonal camouflage in snowshoe hares

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Science  22 Jun 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6395, pp. 1355-1358
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar5273

Hybrid camouflage variation

Snowshoe hares molt from a brown coat to a white coat in winter. In some populations, however, where winter snow is less extensive, hares molt from a brown coat to a brown coat. Jones et al. show that regulation of the pigmentation gene Agouti is responsible for the winter coat color change. Hybridization with jackrabbits has led to introgression around this gene that facilitates the brown winter morph. Hybridization appears to have provided important adaptive variation to the snowshoe hare.

Science, this issue p. 1355


Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) maintain seasonal camouflage by molting to a white winter coat, but some hares remain brown during the winter in regions with low snow cover. We show that cis-regulatory variation controlling seasonal expression of the Agouti gene underlies this adaptive winter camouflage polymorphism. Genetic variation at Agouti clustered by winter coat color across multiple hare and jackrabbit species, revealing a history of recurrent interspecific gene flow. Brown winter coats in snowshoe hares likely originated from an introgressed black-tailed jackrabbit allele that has swept to high frequency in mild winter environments. These discoveries show that introgression of genetic variants that underlie key ecological traits can seed past and ongoing adaptation to rapidly changing environments.

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