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Merondun, Justin; Murray, Dennis L. and Shafer, Aaron B. A. (2019): Genome-scale sampling suggests cryptic epigenetic structuring and insular divergence in Canada lynx. In: Molecular Ecology, Vol. 28, No. 13: pp. 3186-3196

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Determining the molecular signatures of adaptive differentiation is a fundamental component of evolutionary biology. A key challenge is to identify such signatures in wild organisms, particularly between populations of highly mobile species that undergo substantial gene flow. The Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) is one species where mainland populations appear largely undifferentiated at traditional genetic markers, despite inhabiting diverse environments and displaying phenotypic variation. Here, we used high-throughput sequencing to investigate both neutral genetic structure and epigenetic differentiation across the distributional range of Canada lynx. Newfoundland lynx were identified as the most differentiated population at neutral genetic markers, with demographic modelling suggesting that divergence from the mainland occurred at the end of the last glaciation (20-33 KYA). In contrast, epigenetic structure revealed hidden levels of differentiation across the range coincident with environmental determinants including winter conditions, particularly in the peripheral Newfoundland and Alaskan populations. Several biological pathways related to morphology were differentially methylated between populations, suggesting that epigenetic modifications might explain morphological differences seen between geographically peripheral populations. Our results indicate that epigenetic modifications, specifically DNA methylation, are powerful markers to investigate population differentiation in wild and non-model systems.

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