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Abstract

On the basis of studies with laboratory strains of Drosophila and Arabidopsis, it has been hypothesized that potential buffers to the expression of phenotypic morphological variation, such as Hsp90 and possibly Hsp70, represent important components of Waddington's widget, which may confer capacitive evolution. As studies on field populations of living organisms to test this hypothesis are lacking, we tested whether a heat response strategy involving high stress protein levels is associated with low morphological variation and vice versa, using four natural populations of Mediterranean pulmonate snails. In response to 8 hr of elevated temperatures, a population of Xeropicta derbentina with uniform shell pigmentation pattern showed remarkably high Hsp70 but low Hsp90 levels. In contrast, a highly variable population of Cernuella virgata kept both Hsp90 and Hsp70 levels low when held at diverse though environmentally relevant temperatures. Two other populations (Theba pisana and another X. derbentina population) with intermediate variation in shell pigmentation pattern were also intermediate in inducing Hsp70, though Hsp90 was maintained at a low level. The observed correlation of stress protein levels and coloration pattern variation provide the first indirect evidence for an association of stress proteins with Waddington's widget under natural conditions. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 312B:136–147, 2009. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.