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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The adaptive value of phenotypic plasticity in two ecotypes of a marine gastropod

Johan Hollander* and Roger K Butlin

Author Affiliations

Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, N10 2TN, UK

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:333  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-333

Published: 28 October 2010



Few surveys have concentrated on studying the adaptive value of phenotypic plasticity within genetically-distinct conspecific ecotypes. Here, we conduct a test to assess the adaptive value that partial phenotypic plasticity may have for survival in the marine gastropod Littorina saxatilis. This species has evolved canalized ecotypes but, nevertheless, the ecotypes show some phenotypic plasticity for the traits under divergent selection between wave-exposed and high-predation habitats.


We exposed juveniles of each ecotype to several environmental treatments under laboratory conditions in order to produce shape variation associated with plasticity. The two ecotypes from different treatments were then transplanted to the wave-exposed habitat and the survival rate was monitored. Ecotype explained the largest distinction in survival rate while treatment caused variation in survival rate within the ecotype released into its parental habitat which was correlated with plastic changes in shell shape. Snails that had experienced a treatment mimicking the environment of the transplantation location survived with the highest rate, while individuals from the contrary experimental treatment had lower survivorship.


We conclude that the partial plastic response shown in Littorina saxatilis has a significant impact on fitness, although this remains small compared to the overall adaptive difference between ecotypes.