Determining how different populations adapt to similar environments is fundamental to understanding the limits of adaptation under changing environments. Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) typically molt into white winter coats to remain camouflaged against snow. In some warmer climates, hares have evolved brown winter camouflage—an adaptation that may spread in response to climate change. We used extensive range-wide genomic data to (1) resolve broad patterns of population structure and gene flow and (2) investigate the factors shaping the origins and distribution of winter-brown camouflage variation. In coastal Pacific Northwest (PNW) populations, winter-brown camouflage is known to be determined by a recessive haplotype at the Agouti pigmentation gene. Our phylogeographic analyses revealed deep structure and limited gene flow between PNW and more northern Boreal populations, where winter-brown camouflage is rare along the range edge. Genome sequencing of a winter-brown snowshoe hare from Alaska shows that it lacks the winter-brown PNW haplotype, reflecting a history of convergent phenotypic evolution. However, the PNW haplotype does occur at low frequency in a winter-white population from Montana, consistent with the spread of a locally deleterious recessive variant that is masked from selection when rare. Simulations of this population further show that this masking effect would greatly slow the selective increase of the winter-brown Agouti allele should it suddenly become beneficial (e.g., owing to dramatic declines in snow cover). Our findings underscore how allelic dominance can shape the geographic extent and rate of convergent adaptation in response to rapidly changing environments.
- Climate change
- local adaptation
- parallel evolution
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)