Evolution in action across life at "evolution canyons", Israel

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The "Evolution Canyon" model reveals evolution in action across life at a microscale involving biodiversity divergence, adaptation and incipient sympatric ecological speciation across life. The model highlights diverse taxa species richness, genomics, proteomics and phenomics phenomena by exploring genetic polymorphisms at protein and DNA levels and, recently, genome-wide gene expression and regulation. Genetic diversity and divergence reveal evolutionary dynamics of natural populations exposed to sharp-interslope, ecologically divergent, tropical and temperate microclimates on a xeric, tropical, "African" south-facing slope (AS) abutting with a mesic, temperate, "European" north-facing slope (ES) separated by 200 meters on average. Four "Evolution Canyons" (EC) are currently being investigated in Israel in the Carmel, Galilee, Negev, and Golan Mountains (EC I-IV), respectively. We identified 2,500 species in ECI (Carmel) from bacteria to mammals in an area of 7,000 m2. Local biodiversity patterns parallel global patterns. Higher terrestrial species richness was found on the AS. Aquatic species richness prevails on the ES. In 9 out of 14 (64%) model organisms across life, we identified a significantly higher genetic polymorphism on the more stressful AS. Likewise, in some model taxa, we found largely higher levels of mutation rates, gene conversion, recombination, DNA repair, genome size, small sequence repeats (SSRs), single nucleotide polymorphism (SNPs), retrotransposons, transposons, candidate gene diversity, and genome-wide gene expression and regulation on the more stressful AS. Remarkably, interslope incipient sympatric ecological speciation was found across life from bacteria to mammals. The "Evolution Canyon" model represents the Israeli ecological analogue of the Galapagos Islands. Microclimatic selection overrides gene flow and drift, and drives both interslope adaptive divergence and incipient sympatric ecological speciation at a microscale. The EC model could potentially highlight many mysteries of evolutionary biology including the genetic basis of adaptation and speciation, especially now with the rapid high-throughput techniques of whole genome analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-34
Number of pages23
JournalTrends in Evolutionary Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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