Dr. Patrik Nosil, University of Sheffield, UK
Dr. Goran Klobucar, University of Zagreb, Croatia

Summary and aim of the project

Background: Recent and dramatic changes induced by anthropogenic disturbance are widespread across the Earth, creating conservation and economic concerns and receiving much attention in applied research. Additionally, such changes create a unique arena for the basic study of rapid evolution and ecological dynamics. Therefore, studies of anthropogenic change are at the crossroads of basic and applied research. Here we propose a highly multidisciplinary study that combines evolutionary and eco-toxicological approaches with the latest genomic technologies (next-generation-sequencing, NGS) and computational biology to test the biological effects of anthropogenic change.

Research: Specifically, we are testing how pollution affects the rapid evolution, ecology, phenotypic traits, and genetic characteristics of Mediterranean mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis) populations along the Croatian Adriatic coast. The project contains four inter-related components. First, chemical and eco-toxicological analyses will quantify a gradient of pollution across ten sites, ranging from pristine waters to highly polluted harbours, followed by further ecological characterisation of the sites. Second, mussel populations from these sites will be surveyed for patterns of genetic differentiation at numerous regions across the genome. Data analysis in a Bayesian population genomic framework will quantify genetic structure, infer gene flow and population sizes, and identify exceptionally differentiated ‘outlier’ loci that are implicated in divergent adaptation. The results will test whether pollution affects genetic structure and drives rapid evolution. Third, associations between genotype, phenotype, and fitness will be identified using a combination of transplant experiments and genome wide association mapping. This will quantify the genetic architecture of fitness variation and test whether regions differing strongly between populations are the same as those associated with fitness of individuals. Fourth, surveys of DNA methylation patterns will test whether pollution alters epigenetic profiles, i.e., causes molecular changes via mechanisms other than alterations in DNA sequence.

Significance: The collective results will yield an integrative understanding of the biological effects of pollution, with strong implications for basic and applied research. For example, the results will inform debates in evolutionary biology concerning the manner and rate in which natural selection impacts the genome. It will also quantify the degree to which the same genomic regions are affected by selection in different populations, thus testing repeatability and constraint in biological diversification. From an applied angle, knowledge of fitness correlates in mussels can improve aquaculture practices and the pollution monitoring will inform environmental and tourism practices. The proposed work will result in high-profile publications and bring cutting-edge genomic and computational methods to Croatian science.

Grant agreement number 12/13
1 762 393,61 kn