Convergent evolution describes the independent acquisition (or loss) of a trait in different evolutionary lineages, often in response to the same adaptive pressure. Convergent evolution has been documented at the level of morphology and physiology in many examples including hind limb reduction in swimming mammals and oxygen affinity in species at altitude. The powerful consequence of convergent evolution is that multiple independent realizations of the phenotype provide statistical leverage to identify shared genetic elements underlying that phenotype, even amid the substantial noise in whole-genome scans.
Our work in convergent evolution addresses two driving needs:
1) To identify adaptive changes that evolve in response to environmental challenges, and
2) to assign high-level biological functions to genomic elements.
To achieve these goals we have created the RERconverge R package [https://github.com/nclark-lab/RERconverge] to computationally scan for genes and regulatory sequences underlying convergent phenotypes. To date we’ve applied this and other genomic/proteomic approaches to the evolution of aquatic adaptation, subterranean mammals, and long lifespan. We are also developing studies of high-altitude adaptation, hair follicle development, and other convergent phenotypes.