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Keywords:

  • Genetic diversity;
  • Microevolution;
  • Directional selection;
  • Fitness costs;
  • Acid mine drainage

Abstract

Natural populations exposed to pollutants are predicted to experience a loss of genetic diversity, especially through genetic drift, gene flow (emigration), and/or selection (as sensitive genotypes may be lost). In the present study, the authors discuss the use of selectable markers and neutral markers to evaluate a contaminant-driven loss of genetic diversity and possible implications of genetic erosion on populations' viability. Viability could be reduced by altering life history parameters, especially due to fitness costs associated with the acquisition of resistance and/or by compromising the resilience and adaptation to future environmental changes. This discussion aims at an integrated and critical analysis of this topic; it is illustrated by several independent studies (each with its own specific objectives) that were carried out at the same location with Daphnia longispina populations. To the best of the authors' knowledge, this is the most extensively documented case study on genetic erosion of a natural zooplankton population. Directional selection has been found to be a main factor of microevolution; therefore, genetic erosion was detected by monitoring suitable phenotypic markers. Genetic drift was found to be probably irrelevant or masked by other factors, especially gene flow. Although the acquisition of resistance apparently did not entail genetically determined fitness costs under uncontaminated conditions, the present case study suggests the possibility of a further loss of genotypes due to some negative linkages between the sensitivity to potential ulterior toxicants. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2012; 31: 977–982. © 2012 SETAC