Continental-Scale Footprint of Balancing and Positive Selection in a Small Rodent (Microtus arvalis)
Genetic adaptation to different environmental conditions is expected to lead to large differences between populations at selected loci, thus providing a signature of positive selection. Whereas balancing selection can maintain polymorphisms over long evolutionary periods and even geographic scale, thus leads to low levels of divergence between populations at selected loci. However, little is known about the relative importance of these two selective forces in shaping genomic diversity, partly due to difficulties in recognizing balancing selection in species showing low levels of differentiation. Here we address this problem by studying genomic diversity in the European common vole (Microtus arvalis) presenting high levels of differentiation between populations (average F-ST = 0.31). We studied 3,839 Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism (AFLP) markers genotyped in 444 individuals from 21 populations distributed across the European continent and hence over different environmental conditions. Our statistical approach to detect markers under selection is based on a Bayesian method specifically developed for AFLP markers, which treats AFLPs as a nearly codominant marker system, and therefore has increased power to detect selection. The high number of screened populations allowed us to detect the signature of balancing selection across a large geographic area. We detected 33 markers potentially under balancing selection, hence strong evidence of stabilizing selection in 21 populations across Europe. However, our analyses identified four-times more markers (138) being under positive selection, and geographical patterns suggest that some of these markers are probably associated with alpine regions, which seem to have environmental conditions that favour adaptation. We conclude that despite favourable conditions in this study for the detection of balancing selection, this evolutionary force seems to play a relatively minor role in shaping the genomic diversity of the common vole, which is more influenced by positive selection and neutral processes like drift and demographic history.