Divergent Selection and Primary Gene Flow Shape Incipient Speciation of a Riparian Tree on Hawaii Island

Jae Young Choi, Michael Purugganan, Elizabeth A. Stacy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A long-standing goal of evolutionary biology is to understand the mechanisms underlying the formation of species. Of particular interest is whether or not speciation can occur in the presence of gene flow and without a period of physical isolation. Here, we investigated this process within Hawaiian Metrosideros, a hypervariable and highly dispersible woody species complex that dominates the Hawaiian Islands in continuous stands. Specifically, we investigated the origin of Metrosideros polymorpha var. newellii (newellii), a riparian ecotype endemic to Hawaii Island that is purportedly derived from the archipelago-wide M. polymorpha var. glaberrima (glaberrima). Disruptive selection across a sharp forest-riparian ecotone contributes to the isolation of these varieties and is a likely driver of newellii's origin. We examined genome-wide variation of 42 trees from Hawaii Island and older islands. Results revealed a split between glaberrima and newellii within the past 0.3-1.2 My. Admixture was extensive between lineages within Hawaii Island and between islands, but introgression from populations on older islands (i.e., secondary gene flow) did not appear to contribute to the emergence of newellii. In contrast, recurrent gene flow (i.e., primary gene flow) between glaberrima and newellii contributed to the formation of genomic islands of elevated absolute and relative divergence. These regions were enriched for genes with regulatory functions as well as for signals of positive selection, especially in newellii, consistent with divergent selection underlying their formation. In sum, our results support riparian newellii as a rare case of incipient ecological speciation with primary gene flow in trees.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)695-710
Number of pages16
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • Metrosideros
  • ecological speciation
  • gene flow
  • genomic islands of divergence
  • incipient speciation
  • sympatric speciation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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