Similar forms often evolve repeatedly in nature, raising long-standing questions about the underlying mechanisms. Here, we use repeated evolution in stickleback to identify a large set of genomic loci that change recurrently during colonization of freshwater habitats by marine fish. The same loci used repeatedly in extant populations also show rapid allele frequency changes when new freshwater populations are experimentally established from marine ancestors. Marked genotypic and phenotypic changes arise within 5 years, facilitated by standing genetic variation and linkage between adaptive regions. Both the speed and location of changes can be predicted using empirical observations of recurrence in natural populations or fundamental genomic features like allelic age, recombination rates, density of divergent loci, and overlap with mapped traits. A composite model trained on these stickleback features can also predict the location of key evolutionary loci in Darwin's finches, suggesting that similar features are important for evolution across diverse taxa.
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