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Effects of predation pressure and resource use on morphological divergence in omnivorous prey fish

Kristin Scharnweber1*, Kozo Watanabe23, Jari Syväranta14, Thomas Wanke15, Michael T Monaghan2 and Thomas Mehner1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology and Ecology of Fishes, Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Berlin, Germany

2 Department of Ecosystem Research, Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Berlin, Germany

3 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Ehime University, Matsuyama, Japan

4 Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland

5 Department of Lake and River Fishery, Institute of Inland Fisheries, Potsdam, Germany

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:132  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-132

Published: 27 June 2013



Body shape is one of the most variable traits of organisms and responds to a broad array of local selective forces. In freshwater fish, divergent body shapes within single species have been repeatedly observed along the littoral-pelagic axes of lakes, where the structural complexity of near shore habitats provides a more diverse set of resources compared to the open-water zones. It remains poorly understood whether similar resource-driven polymorphism occurs among lakes that vary in structural complexity and predation pressure, and whether this variation is heritable. Here, we analyzed body shape in four populations of omnivorous roach (Rutilus rutilus) inhabiting shallow lakes. We tested the relationship between body shape, gradients of resources, predation pressure, and, in a subset of two lakes, diet composition. We used genome scans of 331 polymorphic AFLP markers to test whether there was a heritable component to the observed morphological diversification.


Body shape differed among lakes and was significantly correlated to differences in predation pressure. Roach from the lake with highest predation pressure were most divergent from the average body shape of all populations, characterized by a more streamlined body and caudally inserted dorsal fins; features that facilitate predator escape. Surprisingly, diet composition was not associated with morphology. AFLP analysis revealed weak genetic differentiation among lakes and no isolation by distance (IBD). Outlier analysis detected three loci under positive selection with differing frequencies in the four populations. General linear models did not support an association of lake-specific genotypes with morphological variation.


Body shape was divergent among lakes, suggesting that processes previously reported from within single lakes may also be operating at the scale of whole lakes. We found no evidence for body shape being heritable, although sample size was small in these natural populations. Rather than habitat structure and diet, we conclude that predation had a stronger effect on the prevalence of local morphotypes. A variable morphotype facilitating the efficient uptake of a variety of spatially and temporarily scattered resources seems to be favored in these small aquatic systems.

Geometric morphometrics; AFLP; Stable isotope analysis; Gut content analysis; Shallow lakes; Predation; Outlier loci; Adaptive divergence; Rutilus rutilus; Predator induced morphological defense