Brown trout and toxic metals: Local adaptation to the legacy of Britain’s mining history
Paris, Josephine Rosanna
Date: 28 April 2017
University of Exeter
PhD in Biological Sciences
The effect of human activity on the natural world is increasingly shaping the evolution of species. The capacity of evolution to occur in individuals of a species, via natural selection acting on the genotypes of local populations through successive generations, is known as local adaptation. In southwest England, historical mining ...
The effect of human activity on the natural world is increasingly shaping the evolution of species. The capacity of evolution to occur in individuals of a species, via natural selection acting on the genotypes of local populations through successive generations, is known as local adaptation. In southwest England, historical mining activity has resulted in a patchwork of highly metal-contaminated rivers across the region. Where the ecological diversity in many of these rivers has been decimated, metal-tolerant brown trout (Salmo trutta L.) populations seem to thrive. What are the mechanisms underlying this apparent metal-tolerance? And can it be attributed to processes of local adaptation? This thesis takes a multi-faceted approach in assessing this, by exploring the patterns and processes involved in metal-tolerance in brown trout populations in southwest England. A series of investigations were undertaken, including the use of neutral genetic markers (microsatellites), reduced representation genome sequencing (RAD-seq), common-garden exposure experiments, and genome-wide analysis of hepatic gene expression (RNA-seq). The microsatellite analysis illustrated that metal-tolerant trout have a different genetic architecture compared to fish in clean rivers and, using Bayesian analysis, these demographic differences were correlated with key periods of mining history. We then developed an approach to facilitate robust screening of genome-wide polymorphic loci through a method of parameter optimisation for RAD-seq. This approach formed the basis for identifying loci for investigating the genomic processes of local adaptation in metal-tolerant trout. We present genome-wide (RAD-seq) data highly indicative that neighbouring trout populations, differently impacted by unique ‘cocktails’ of metal pollutants have evolved both parallel and convergent mechanisms of metal tolerance. Through a common garden experiment, exposing metal-tolerant and metal-naïve fish to a mixture of metals, we were able to hone in on the physiological mechanisms underlying metal-tolerance. Finally, through RNA-seq, we observed that metal-tolerant fish showed little to no changes in hepatic gene expression when exposed to metals, pointing to innate mechanisms of metal handling. Together, the marriage of these various investigations showcases the remarkable ability of local adaptation in conferring metal-tolerance to brown trout populations in southwest England, and, importantly, the resilience of species’ in the face of human-altered environments.
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