Gene flow and selection interact to promote adaptive divergence in regions of low recombination.
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Adaptation to new environments often occurs in the face of gene flow. Under these conditions, gene flow and recombination can impede adaptation by breaking down linkage disequilibrium between locally adapted alleles. Theory predicts that this decay can be halted or slowed if adaptive alleles are tightly linked in regions of low recombination, potentially favouring divergence and adaptive evolution in these regions over others. Here, we compiled a global genomic data set of over 1,300 individual threespine stickleback from 52 populations and compared the tendency for adaptive alleles to occur in regions of low recombination between populations that diverged with or without gene flow. In support of theory, we found that putatively adaptive alleles (FST and dXY outliers) tend to occur more often in regions of low recombination in populations where divergent selection and gene flow have jointly occurred. This result remained significant when we employed different genomic window sizes, controlled for the effects of mutation rate and gene density, controlled for overall genetic differentiation, varied the genetic map used to estimate recombination and used a continuous (rather than discrete) measure of geographic distance as proxy for gene flow/shared ancestry. We argue that our study provides the first statistical evidence that the interaction of gene flow and selection biases divergence toward regions of low recombination.