How locally adapted ecotypes are established and maintained within a species is a long-standing question in evolutionary biology. Using forest and prairie ecotypes of deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus), we characterized the genetic basis of variation in two defining traits—tail length and coat color—and discovered a 41-megabase chromosomal inversion linked to both. The inversion frequency is 90% in the dark, long-tailed forest ecotype; decreases across a habitat transition; and is absent from the light, short-tailed prairie ecotype. We implicate divergent selection in maintaining the inversion at frequencies observed in the wild, despite high levels of gene flow, and explore fitness benefits that arise from suppressed recombination within the inversion. We uncover a key role for a large, previously uncharacterized inversion in the evolution and maintenance of classic mammalian ecotypes.
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