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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Low Mutation Load in a Supergene Underpinning Alternative Male Mating Strategies in Ruff (Calidris pugnax)

Hill, Jason; Enbody, Erik D.; Bi, Huijuan; Lamichhaney, Sangeet; Lei, Weipan; Chen, Juexin; Wei, Chentao; Liu, Yang; Schwochow, Doreen; Younis, Shady; Widemo, Fredrik; Andersson, Leif


A paradox in evolutionary biology is how supergenes can maintain high fitness despite reduced effective population size, the suppression of recombination, and the expected accumulation of mutational load. The ruff supergene involves 2 rare inversion haplotypes (satellite and faeder). These are recessive lethals but with dominant effects on male mating strategies, plumage, and body size. Sequence divergence to the wild-type (independent) haplotype indicates that the inversion could be as old as 4 million years. Here, we have constructed a highly contiguous genome assembly of the inversion region for both the independent and satellite haplotypes. Based on the new data, we estimate that the recombination event(s) creating the satellite haplotype occurred only about 70,000 yr ago. Contrary to expectations for supergenes, we find no substantial expansion of repeats and only a modest mutation load on the satellite and faeder haplotypes despite high sequence divergence to the non-inverted haplotype (1.46%). The essential centromere protein N (CENPN) gene is disrupted by the inversion and is as well conserved on the inversion haplotypes as on the noninversion haplotype. These results suggest that the inversion may be much younger than previously thought. The low mutation load, despite recessive lethality, may be explained by the introgression of the inversion from a now extinct lineage.


ruff; supergene; genetic load; mating strategies; natural selection

Published in

Molecular Biology and Evolution
2023, Volume: 40, number: 12, article number: msad224