Going where traditional markers have not gone before: utility of and promise for RAD sequencing in marine invertebrate phylogeography and population genomics. Academic Article uri icon


  • Characterization of large numbers of single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) throughout a genome has the power to refine the understanding of population demographic history and to identify genomic regions under selection in natural populations. To this end, population genomic approaches that harness the power of next-generation sequencing to understand the ecology and evolution of marine invertebrates represent a boon to test long-standing questions in marine biology and conservation. We employed restriction-site-associated DNA sequencing (RAD-seq) to identify SNPs in natural populations of the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis, an emerging cnidarian model with a broad geographic range in estuarine habitats in North and South America, and portions of England. We identified hundreds of SNP-containing tags in thousands of RAD loci from 30 barcoded individuals inhabiting four locations from Nova Scotia to South Carolina. Population genomic analyses using high-confidence SNPs resulted in a highly-resolved phylogeography, a result not achieved in previous studies using traditional markers. Plots of locus-specific FST against heterozygosity suggest that a majority of polymorphic sites are neutral, with a smaller proportion suggesting evidence for balancing selection. Loci inferred to be under balancing selection were mapped to the genome, where 90% were located in gene bodies, indicating potential targets of selection. The results from analyses with and without a reference genome supported similar conclusions, further highlighting RAD-seq as a method that can be efficiently applied to species lacking existing genomic resources. We discuss the utility of RAD-seq approaches in burgeoning Nematostella research as well as in other cnidarian species, particularly corals and jellyfishes, to determine phylogeographic relationships of populations and identify regions of the genome undergoing selection.

publication date

  • June 2013