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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Rapid evolution in response to introduced predators I: rates and patterns of morphological and life-history trait divergence

Debra L Fisk1, Leigh C Latta1, Roland A Knapp2 and Michael E Pfrender1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, 5305 Old Main Hill Road, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322, USA

2 Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory, University of California, HCR 79, Box 198, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:22  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-22

Published: 14 February 2007

Abstract

Background

Introduced species can have profound effects on native species, communities, and ecosystems, and have caused extinctions or declines in native species globally. We examined the evolutionary response of native zooplankton populations to the introduction of non-native salmonids in alpine lakes in the Sierra Nevada of California, USA. We compared morphological and life-history traits in populations of Daphnia with a known history of introduced salmonids and populations that have no history of salmonid introductions.

Results

Our results show that Daphnia populations co-existing with fish have undergone rapid adaptive reductions in body size and in the timing of reproduction. Size-related traits decreased by up to 13 percent in response to introduced fish. Rates of evolutionary change are as high as 4,238 darwins (0.036 haldanes).

Conclusion

Species introductions into aquatic habitats can dramatically alter the selective environment of native species leading to a rapid evolutionary response. Knowledge of the rates and limits of adaptation is an important component of understanding the long-term effects of alterations in the species composition of communities. We discuss the evolutionary consequences of species introductions and compare the rate of evolution observed in the Sierra Nevada Daphnia to published estimates of evolutionary change in ecological timescales.