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The genomics of adaptation and speciation in wild sunflowers Huang, Kaichi


Uncovering the genetic and evolutionary basis of adaptation and speciation is a major focus of evolutionary biology. The recent accumulation of population-scale genomic data makes it possible to identify loci underlying adaptive divergence and speciation, as well as the genomic architecture that facilitates these processes. Chromosomal inversions, a genomic rearrangement in which a segment of a chromosome is reversed end to end, have received much attention as one of the most important genomic architectures contributing to adaption and speciation. In this thesis, I used high-quality genomic data from wild sunflowers to explore the role of inversions in adaptation and speciation. I first conducted a comprehensive literature review to investigate what we have learned about the establishment and likely evolutionary role of chromosomal inversions in plants. In my second study, I made use of reduced representation sequencing data and newly developed population genomic approaches to identify seven putative chromosomal inversions that contribute to adaptive divergence of a sand dune ecotype of the prairie sunflower (Helianthus petiolaris). I further employed comparative genetic mapping to validate the inversions and identified key environmental variables significantly associated with these inversions using genome-environment association analyses. I then broadened my study to investigate the role of inversions in molecular evolution across different wild sunflowers. I showed that inversions are ideal recombination modifiers from an evolutionary standpoint because by allowing recombination among chromosomes of the same orientation but not between orientations they can facilitate adaptive divergence with gene flow, while largely averting the accumulation of deleterious mutations due to recombination suppression. Lastly, I used multiple approaches to identify loci underlying parallel ecological divergence in two dune ecotypes in H. petiolaris and found that inversions contribute disproportionately to parallel genetic evolution. Future directions include identifying genes and mutations underlying key traits associated with the inversions, examining the association of inversions with assortative mating, and exploring the roles of other structural variants in facilitating adaptation and speciation.

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