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Environmental Epigenetics




Epigenetic mechanisms may be important for a native species’ response to rapid environmental change. Red Imported Fire Ants (Solenopsis invicta Santschi, 1916) were recently introduced to areas occupied by the Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulatus Bosc & Daudin, 1801). Behavioral, morphological and physiological phenotypes of the Eastern Fence Lizard have changed following invasion, creating a natural biological system to investigate environmentally induced epigenetic changes. We tested for variation in DNA methylation patterns in Eastern Fence Lizard populations associated with different histories of invasion by Red Imported Fire Ants. At methylation sensitive amplified fragment length polymorphism loci, we detected a higher diversity of methylation in Eastern Fence Lizard populations from Fire Ant uninvaded versus invaded sites, and uninvaded sites had higher methylation. Our results suggest that invasive species may alter methylation frequencies and the pattern of methylation among native individuals. While our data indicate a high level of intrinsic variability in DNA methylation, DNA methylation at some genomic loci may underlie observed phenotypic changes in Eastern Fence Lizard populations in response to invasion of Red Imported Fire Ants. This process may be important in facilitating adaptation of native species to novel pressures imposed by a rapidly changing environment.