Local genetic adaptation to grazing pressure of the green alga Desmodesmus armatus in a strongly connected pond system

Vanormelingen, Pieter, Wim Vyverman, Dries De Bock, Katleen Van der Gucht, Luc De Meester

Limnol. Oceanogr., 54(2), 2009, 503-511 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2009.54.2.0503

ABSTRACT: Dispersal potentially homogenizes genetic variation among populations and thus may prevent local genetic adaptation. If selection gradients are strong and the selection response efficient, however, local genetic adaptation may persist in the face of high dispersal rates. We compared grazing-resistance traits among populations of the green microalga Desmodesmus armatus, which inhabit ponds that are ecologically different but part of a strongly interconnected pond system. Desmodesmus clones were isolated from a clear-water and a turbid pond. For 16 clones from an internal transcribed spacer 2 clade with low sequence variation (1.3%) corresponding morphologically to D. armatus, coenobial dimensions and the average number of cells per coenobium, in both the absence and the presence of water conditioned by their main grazer, the waterflea Daphnia, were determined. Clones from the clear-water pond had four-celled coenobia with a higher greatest axial linear dimension and an increased average number of cells per coenobium in response to Daphnia kairomone, contrary to clones from the turbid pond. Unexpectedly, they were also characterized by a lower average number of cells per coenobium. No differences among populations were detected for cell length. Genetic variation was present in both populations for all traits, except for the response to kairomone. Continuous dispersal through overflows and rivulets in this pond system is thus incapable of preventing strong among-population genetic differentiation for ecological relevant traits, testifying both to the capacity of phytoplankton populations to adapt to local conditions and to the importance of grazing as a structuring factor in natural phytoplankton populations.

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