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Open Access Research article

Effects of population outcrossing on rotifer fitness

Ana M Tortajada*, María José Carmona and Manuel Serra

Author Affiliations

Institut Cavanilles de Biodiversitat i Biologia Evolutiva, Universitat de València, A.O. 22085, València 46071, Spain

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:312  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-312

Published: 18 October 2010

Abstract

Background

Outcrossing between populations can exert either positive or negative effects on offspring fitness. Cyclically parthenogenetic rotifers, like other continental zooplankters, show high genetic differentiation despite their high potential for passive dispersal. Within this context, the effects of outcrossing may be relevant in modulating gene flow between populations through selection for or against interpopulation hybrids. Nevertheless, these effects remain practically unexplored in rotifers. Here, the consequences of outcrossing on the rotifer Brachionus plicatilis were investigated. Cross-mating experiments were performed between a reference population and three alternative populations that differed in their genetic distance with regard to the former. Two offspring generations were obtained: F1 and BC ('backcross'). Fitness of the outcrossed offspring was compared with fitness of the offspring of the reference population for both generations and for three different between-population combinations. Four fitness components were measured throughout the rotifer life cycle: the diapausing egg-hatching proportion, clone viability (for the clones originating from diapausing eggs), initial net growth rate R for each viable clone, and the proportion of male-producing clones. Additionally, both the parental fertilisation proportion and a compound fitness measure, integrating the complete life cycle, were estimated.

Results

In the F1 generation, hybrid vigour was detected for the diapausing egg-hatching proportion, while R was lower in the outcrossed offspring than in the offspring of the reference population. Despite these contrasting results, hybrid vigour was globally observed for the compound measure of fitness. Moreover, there was evidence that this vigour could increase with the genetic differentiation of the outcrossed populations. In the BC generation, the hybrid vigour detected for the egg-hatching proportion in the F1 generation reverted to outbreeding depression. By contrast, signs of hybrid vigour were observed for clone viability and R. The opposing trends observed for different life-cycle stages yielded a global pattern of hybrid vigour in the BC generation for two out of the three between-population comparisons.

Conclusions

Results suggest that outbreeding depression does not constitute a barrier to gene flow. In newly-founded populations, where the population size is still small, dilution of immigrants should be low. Thus, a lack of outbreeding depression would allow gene flow to have an impact on the genetic composition of these populations.