Founder populations often show rapid divergence from source populations after colonizing new environments. Epigenetic modifications can mediate phenotypic responses to environmental change and may be an important mechanism promoting rapid differentiation in founder populations. Whereas many long-term studies have explored the extent to which divergence between source and founder populations is genetically heritable versus plastic, the role of epigenetic processes during colonization remains unclear. To investigate epigenetic modifications in founding populations, we experimentally colonized eight small Caribbean islands with brown anole lizards (Anolis sagrei) from a common source population. We then quantitatively measured genome-wide DNA methylation in liver tissue using reduced representation bisulfite sequencing of individuals transplanted onto islands with high- versus low-habitat quality. We found that lizard sex and habitat quality explained a significant proportion of epigenetic variation. Differentially methylated cytosines mapped to genes that encode proteins with functions likely to be relevant to habitat change (e.g., signal transduction, immune response, circadian rhythm). This study provides experimental evidence of a relationship between epigenetic responses and the earliest stages of colonization of novel environments in nature and suggests that habitat quality influences the nature of these epigenetic modifications.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Molecular Biology
- Anolis sagrei
- DNA methylation
- Phenotypic plasticity
- Reduced representation bisulfite sequencing