Phenotypic and genomic adaptations to the extremely high elevation in plateau zokor (Myospalax baileyi)

Tao Zhang, Jie Chen, Jia Zhang, Yuan Ting Guo, Xin Zhou, Meng Wen Li, Zhi Zhong Zheng, Tong Zuo Zhang, Robert W. Murphy, Eviatar Nevo, Peng Shi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The evolutionary outcomes of high elevation adaptation have been extensively described. However, whether widely distributed high elevation endemic animals adopt uniform mechanisms during adaptation to different elevational environments remains unknown, especially with respect to extreme high elevation environments. To explore this, we analysed the phenotypic and genomic data of seven populations of plateau zokor (Myospalax baileyi) along elevations ranging from 2,700 to 4,300 m. Based on whole-genome sequencing data and demographic reconstruction of the evolutionary history, we show that two populations of plateau zokor living at elevations exceeding 3,700 m diverged from other populations nearly 10,000 years ago. Further, phenotypic comparisons reveal stress-dependent adaptation, as two populations living at elevations exceeding 3,700 m have elevated ratios of heart mass to body mass relative to other populations, and the highest population (4,300 m) displays alterations in erythrocytes. Correspondingly, genomic analysis of selective sweeps indicates that positive selection might contribute to the observed phenotypic alterations in these two extremely high elevation populations, with the adaptive cardiovascular phenotypes of both populations possibly evolving under the functional constrains of their common ancestral population. Taken together, phenotypic and genomic evidence demonstrates that heterogeneous stressors impact adaptations to extreme elevations and reveals stress-dependent and genetically constrained adaptation to hypoxia, collectively providing new insights into the high elevation adaptation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5765-5779
Number of pages15
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • heterogeneous stresses
  • high elevation adaptation
  • phenotype and genotype
  • plateau zokor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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