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Schuldiner-Harpaz, Tarryn; Merrill, Richard M. and Jiggins, Chris D. (2022): Evolution of physical linkage between loci controlling ecological traits and mating preferences. In: Journal of Evolutionary Biology, Vol. 35, No. 11: pp. 1537-1547

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Coupling of multiple barriers to gene-flow, such as divergent local adaptation and reproductive isolation, facilitates speciation. However, alleles at loci that contribute to barrier effects can be dissociated by recombination. Models of linkage between diverging alleles often consider elements that reduce recombination, such as chromosomal inversions and alleles that modify recombination rate between existing loci. In contrast, here, we consider the evolution of linkage due to the close proximity of loci on the same chromosome. Examples of such physical linkage exist in several species, but in other cases, strong associations are maintained without physical linkage. We use an individual-based model to study the conditions under which the physical linkage between loci controlling ecological traits and mating preferences might be expected to evolve. We modelled a single locus controlling an ecological trait that acts also as a mating cue. Mating preferences are controlled by multiple loci, formed by mutations that are randomly placed in the genome, within varying distances from the ecological trait locus, allowing us to examine which genomic architectures spread across the population. Our model reveals that stronger physical linkage is favoured when mating preferences and selection are weaker. Under such conditions mating among divergent phenotypes is more frequent, and matching ecological trait and mating preference alleles are more likely to become dissociated by recombination, favouring the evolution of genetic linkage. While most theoretical studies on clustering of divergent loci focus on how physical linkage influences speciation, we show how physical linkage itself can arise, establishing conditions that can favour speciation.

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