Patterns and dynamics of rapid local adaptation and sex in varying habitat types in rotifers


  • Thomas Scheuerl,

    Corresponding author
    1. Imperial College London, Berkshire, U.K
    2. Research Institute for Limnology, University of Innsbruck, Mondsee, Austria
    • Correspondence

      Thomas Scheuerl, Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Berkshire SL5 7PY, U.K. Tel: +44 (0) 207 594 2255; Fax: +44 (0) 207 594 2301; E-mail:

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  • Claus-Peter Stelzer

    1. Research Institute for Limnology, University of Innsbruck, Mondsee, Austria
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Local adaptation is an important principle in a world of environmental change and might be critical for species persistence. We tested the hypothesis that replicated populations can attain rapid local adaptation under two varying laboratory environments. Clonal subpopulations of the cyclically parthenogenetic rotifer Brachionus calyciflorus were allowed to adapt to two varying harsh and a benign environment: a high-salt, a food-limited environment and untreated culture medium (no salt addition, high food). In contrast to most previous studies, we re-adjusted rotifer density to a fixed value (two individuals per ml) every 3–4 days of unrestricted population growth, instead of exchanging a fixed proportion of the culture medium. Thus our dilution regime specifically selected for high population growth during the entire experiment and it allowed us to continuously track changes in fitness (i.e., maximum population growth under the prevailing conditions) in each population. After 56 days (43 asexual and eight sexual generations) of selection, the populations in the harsh environments showed a significant increase in fitness over time relative to the beginning compared to the population in untreated culture medium. Furthermore, the high-salt population exhibited a significantly elevated ratio of sexual offspring from the start of the experiment, which suggested that this environment either triggered higher rates of sex or that the untreated medium and the food-limited environment suppressed sex. In a following assay of local adaptation we measured population fitness under “local” versus “foreign” conditions (populations adapted to this environment compared to those of the other environment) for both harsh habitats. We found significantly higher fitness values for the local populations (on average, a 38% higher fitness) compared to the foreign populations. Overall, local adaptation was formed rapidly and it seemed to be more pronounced in the high-salt treatment.