High Nucleotide Polymorphism and Rapid Decay of Linkage Disequilibrium in Wild Populations of Caenorhabditis remanei

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The common ancestor of the self-fertilizing nematodes Caenorhabditis elegans and C. briggsae must have reproduced by obligate outcrossing, like most species in this genus. However, we have only a limited understanding about how genetic variation is patterned in such male–female (gonochoristic) Caenorhabditis species. Here, we report results from surveying nucleotide variation of six nuclear loci in a broad geographic sample of wild isolates of the gonochoristic C. remanei. We find high levels of diversity in this species, with silent-site diversity averaging 4.7%, implying an effective population size close to 1 million. Additionally, the pattern of polymorphisms reveals little evidence for population structure or deviation from neutral expectations, suggesting that the sampled C. remanei populations approximate panmixis and demographic equilibrium. Combined with the observation that linkage disequilibrium between pairs of polymorphic sites decays rapidly with distance, this suggests that C. remanei will provide an excellent system for identifying the genetic targets of natural selection from deviant patterns of polymorphism and linkage disequilibrium. The patterns revealed in this obligately outcrossing species may provide a useful model of the evolutionary circumstances in C. elegans' gonochoristic progenitor. This will be especially important if self-fertilization evolved recently in C. elegans history, because most of the evolutionary time separating C. elegans from its known relatives would have occurred in a state of obligate outcrossing.