Larvae of the stream-dwelling, filter-feeding caddisfly Macrostemumcarolina construct silken catchnets within protective retreats. In the Savannah River, M. carolina individuals make three different retreats, each with a distinct water entrance hole: (i) at the end of a silken tube; (ii) with a ≈180° silken backstop; and (iii) flush with the top of the retreat. To resolve whether these different retreats represent alternative behavioural phenotypes within a single panmictic population or fixed phenotypes within three genetically distinct populations or species, we compared the allele frequencies at three polymorphic nuclear loci (allozyme electrophoresis for Gpi, Mpi and Pgm) and the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplotype frequencies among individuals displaying the three retreat morphs. We also calculated pairwise exact tests of population differentiation using the allozyme and mtDNA allele frequencies. No significant genetic differentiation was detected among caddisflies exhibiting the different retreat morphs. Therefore, these morphs apparently represent a single panmictic population in the Savannah River. Consequently, additional study is required to assess whether this retreat polymorphism is a phenotypically plastic trait under conditional control, or is mediated by alternative alleles at a Mendelian gene or genes (or a combination of the two).
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