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The genetic architecture of divergence between threespine stickleback species


The genetic and molecular basis of morphological evolution is poorly understood, particularly in vertebrates. Genetic studies of the differences between naturally occurring vertebrate species have been limited by the expense and difficulty of raising large numbers of animals and the absence of molecular linkage maps for all but a handful of laboratory and domesticated animals. We have developed a genome-wide linkage map for the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus), an extensively studied teleost fish that has undergone rapid divergence and speciation since the melting of glaciers 15,000 years ago1. Here we use this map to analyse the genetic basis of recently evolved changes in skeletal armour and feeding morphologies seen in the benthic and limnetic stickleback species from Priest Lake, British Columbia. Substantial alterations in spine length, armour plate number, and gill raker number are controlled by genetic factors that map to independent chromosome regions. Further study of these regions will help to define the number and type of genetic changes that underlie morphological diversification during vertebrate evolution.

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Figure 1: Representative benthic and limnetic fish from Priest Lake, British Columbia, are stained with alizarin red to highlight bone.
Figure 2: Genetic linkage map of Gasterosteus aculeatus.
Figure 3: Mapping of morphological traits in the Priest Lake cross.


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We thank S. Anderson, R. Melzer, K. Tsui, C. Uhlick and R. Vega for technical assistance. D.S. was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada research grant. C.L.P. is a research associate and D.M.K. is an assistant investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

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Correspondence to David M. Kingsley.

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Supplementary Table: Phenotype means of fish with different allele combinations at most closely linked microsatellite (DOC 26 kb)

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Peichel, C., Nereng, K., Ohgi, K. et al. The genetic architecture of divergence between threespine stickleback species. Nature 414, 901–905 (2001).

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