Spatial phenotypic and genetic structure of threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) in a heterogeneous natural system, Lake Mývatn, Iceland



Antoine Millet, Department of Aquaculture and Fish Biology, Hólar University College, IS-551 Sauðárkrókur, Iceland. Tel: +354 455 63 88; Fax: +354 455 63 01; E-mail:


Eco-evolutionary responses of natural populations to spatial environmental variation strongly depend on the relative strength of environmental differences/natural selection and dispersal/gene flow. In absence of geographic barriers, as often is the case in lake ecosystems, gene flow is expected to constrain adaptive divergence between environments – favoring phenotypic plasticity or high trait variability. However, if divergent natural selection is sufficiently strong, adaptive divergence can occur in face of gene flow. The extent of divergence is most often studied between two contrasting environments, whereas potential for multimodal divergence is little explored. We investigated phenotypic (body size, defensive structures, and feeding morphology) and genetic (microsatellites) structure in threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) across five habitat types and two basins (North and South) within the geologically young and highly heterogeneous Lake Mývatn, North East Iceland. We found that (1) North basin stickleback were, on average, larger and had relatively longer spines than South basin stickleback, whereas (2) feeding morphology (gill raker number and gill raker gap width) differed among three of five habitat types, and (3) there was only subtle genetic differentiation across the lake. Overall, our results indicate predator and prey mediated phenotypic divergence across multiple habitats in the lake, in face of gene flow.