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Open Access Research article

Rapid ecological isolation and intermediate genetic divergence in lacustrine cyclic parthenogens

Katie S Costanzo12* and Derek J Taylor1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biological Sciences, The State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY, 14260, USA

2 Illinois Natural History Survey, Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, IL 61802, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:166  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-166

Published: 5 June 2010



Ecological shifts can promote rapid divergence and speciation. However, the role of ecological speciation in animals that reproduce predominantly asexually with periodic sex and strong dispersal, such as lacustrine cladocerans, is poorly understood. These life history traits may slow or prevent ecological lineage formation among populations. Proponents of the postglacial ecological isolation hypothesis for Daphnia suggest that some species have formed postglacially in adjacent, but ecologically different habitats. We tested this hypothesis with ecological, morphological, and multilocus coalescence analyses in the putative lacustrine sister species, Daphnia parvula and Daphnia retrocurva.


Daphnia parvula and D. retrocurva showed strong habitat separation with rare co-occurrence. Lakes inhabited by D. parvula were smaller in size and contained lower densities of invertebrate predators compared to lakes containing D. retrocurva. In the laboratory, D. retrocurva was less vulnerable to invertebrate predation, whereas D. parvula was less vulnerable to vertebrate predation and was smaller and more transparent than D. retrocurva. The species are significantly differentiated at mitochondrial and nuclear loci and form an intermediate genetic divergence pattern between panmixia and reciprocal monophyly. Coalescence and population genetic modelling indicate a Late or Post Glacial time of divergence with a demographic expansion.


Despite their young age and mixed breeding system, D. parvula and D. retrocurva exhibit significant ecological and genetic divergence that is coincident with the formation of deep temperate glacial lakes. We propose that predation may have facilitated the rapid divergence between D. parvula and D. retrocurva and that intermediate divergence of aquatic cyclic parthenogens is likely more common than previously thought.