Sex-dependent dominance at a single locus maintains variation in age at maturity in salmon

Nicola J. Barson, Tutku Aykanat, Kjetil Hindar, Matthew Baranski, Geir H. Bolstad, Peder Fiske, Céleste Jacq, Arne J. Jensen, Susan E. Johnston, Sten Karlsson, Matthew Kent, Thomas Moen, Eero Niemelä, Torfinn Nome, Tor F. Naesje, Panu Orell, Atso Romakkaniemi, Harald Saegrov, Kurt Urdal, Jaakko ErkinaroSigbjorn Lien*, Craig R. Primmer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Males and females share many traits that have a common genetic basis; however, selection on these traits often differs between the sexes, leading to sexual conflict(1,2). Under such sexual antagonism, theory predicts the evolution of genetic architectures that resolve this sexual conflict(2-5). Yet, despite intense theoretical and empirical interest, the specific loci underlying sexually antagonistic phenotypes have rarely been identified, limiting our understanding of how sexual conflict impacts genome evolution(3,6) and the maintenance of genetic diversity(6,7). Here we identify a large effect locus controlling age at maturity in Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), an important fitness trait in which selection favours earlier maturation in males than females(8), and show it is a clear example of sex-dependent dominance that reduces intralocus sexual conflict and maintains adaptive variation in wild populations. Using high-density single nucleotide polymorphism data across 57 wild populations and whole genome re-sequencing, we find that the vestigial-like family member 3 gene (VGLL3) exhibits sex-dependent dominance in salmon, promoting earlier and later maturation in males and females, respectively. VGLL3, an adiposity regulator associated with size and age at maturity in humans, explained 39% of phenotypic variation, an unexpectedly large proportion for what is usually considered a highly polygenic trait. Such large effects are predicted under balancing selection from either sexually antagonistic or spatially varying selection(9,10). Our results provide the first empirical example of dominance reversal allowing greater optimization of phenotypes within each sex, contributing to the resolution of sexual conflict in a major and widespread evolutionary trade-off between age and size at maturity. They also provide key empirical evidence for how variation in reproductive strategies can be maintained over large geographical scales. We anticipate these findings will have a substantial impact on population management in a range of harvested species where trends towards earlier maturation have been observed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)405-498
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2015

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • genome-wide associaton
  • life-history variation
  • Atlantic salmon
  • balancing selection
  • haplotype structure
  • growth-rate
  • population
  • salar
  • adaptation
  • differentiation


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