Phenotypic plasticity of reproductive effort in a colonial ascidian, Botryllus schlosseri



Phenotypic plasticity is the capability of a genotype to produce different phenotypes in different environments. Previous studies have indicated phenotypic variability in asexual, male, and female reproduction in Botryllus schlosseri, a hermaphroditic, colonial ascidian, but not explicitly tested for genotype by environment interactions that indicate genetic variation in plastic responses. Consequently, clones derived from an estuarine population were deployed at their native site and a warmer, higher productivity site 10km up-river. Male reproduction was assayed by testis size, female reproduction by the number of eggs produced, and asexual reproduction by colony growth rate. To test for ontogenetic effects, data were collected from two different generations of zooids born in the field. Analyses of variance indicated plasticity in asexual and female reproduction during the first zooid generation and plasticity in all three traits during the third zooid generation. Reaction norms varied significantly among genotypes in direction and magnitude for asexual reproduction at both times, implying that selection on asexual reproduction is weak. Sperm production during the third zooid generation was significantly lower at the nonnative site, but there was no genotype by environment interaction. The reaction norms for female reproduction varied significantly among genotypes in direction and magnitude during the first zooid generation, but only varied in magnitude during the third generation, with egg production being higher in all genotypes at the nonnative site. Comparisons of weighted frequency distributions between sites demonstrated that differences in egg production in the third generation were due to increases in the proportion of reproductive zooids within a colony. The greater emphasis on female reproduction at a site associated with higher food availability and temperature, and the greater emphasis on male reproduction at a colder, food-limited site, supports predictions from sex allocation theory. J. Exp. Zool. 297A:180–188, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.