Rates and patterns of molecular evolution in avian genomes
- Location: Evolutionary Biology Center, Norbyvägen 14, Uppsala
- Doctoral student: Bolívar, Paulina
- About the dissertation
- Organiser: Evolutionsbiologi
- Contact person: Bolívar, Paulina
In this thesis, I focus on disentangling the relative roles of these evolutionary mechanisms and genetic factors in determining rates and patterns of evolution at the molecular level, by studying variation in the DNA sequence of multiple avian species, and in particular the collared flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis).
Evolution is the change in inherited characteristics of a population through subsequent generations. The interplay of several evolutionary mechanisms determines the rate at which this change occurs. In short, genetic variation is generated though mutation, and the fate of these mutations in a population is determined mainly by the combined effect of genetic drift, natural selection and recombination. Elucidating the relative impact of these mechanisms is complex; making it a long-standing question in evolutionary biology. In this thesis, I focus on disentangling the relative roles of these evolutionary mechanisms and genetic factors in determining rates and patterns of evolution at the molecular level, by studying variation in the DNA sequence of multiple avian species, and in particular the collared flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis). Specifically, I aim to further our understanding regarding the impact of recombination rate on genome evolution, through its interaction with the efficacy of selection and through the process of GC-biased gene conversion (gBGC), which has been poorly characterized in birds. I demonstrate that gBGC has a pervasive effect on the genome of the collared flycatcher and other avian species, as it increases the substitution rate and affects interpretations of the impact of natural selection and adaptation. Interestingly, its effect is even stronger in neutrally evolving sites compared to sites evolving under selection. After accounting for gBGC, I disentangle the true impact of natural selection versus non-adaptive processes in determining rates of molecular evolution in the collared flycatcher genome, shedding light on the process of adaptation. Finally, I demonstrate the significant role of recombination through its impact on linked selection, along with mutation rate differences, in determining relative levels of genetic diversity and their relationship to the fast-Z effect across the avian phylogeny. This thesis urges future studies to account for the effect of recombination before interpreting patterns of selection in sequence evolution.