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Multi-locus genetic evidence for rapid ecologically based speciation in Daphnia


  • M. E. Pfrender,

    1. Department of Biology, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403, USA,
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    • Present address: Department of Zoology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA.

  • K. Spitze,

    1. Department of Biology, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL 33124, USA,
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  • N. Lehman

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biological Sciences, University at Albany, State University of New York, 1400 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY 12222, USA
      N. Lehman. Fax: + 518 442 4767;
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N. Lehman. Fax: + 518 442 4767;


The process of speciation involves the divergence of two or more subpopulations of a parent species into independent evolutionary trajectories. To study this process in natural populations requires a detailed knowledge of the genetic and ecological characteristics of the parent species and an understanding of how its populations can lose evolutionary cohesion. The cosmopolitan and speciose genus Daphnia provides many of these features by existing in multiple freshwater habitat types, particularly permanent lakes and temporary ponds, each of which presents distinct ecological challenges. We assayed the genetic composition of 20 temporary pond populations of members of the Daphnia pulex species complex in north-western Oregon and compared them to published data on related lake and pond populations. We collected molecular genetic data from 13 allozyme loci, from six microsatellite loci, and from the control region of the mitochondrial DNA. By assaying over 400 individual Daphnia for these data, we were able to compile composite genotypes not only of individual Daphnia but of each pond population as a whole. In these ponds, we discovered two distinct genotypic constellations, one which bears resemblance to the lake-dwelling taxon D. pulicaria, and one which bears resemblance to the pond-dwelling taxon, D. pulex. Using published genetic data from these and other species as a frame of reference, we characterized 13 of these ponds as being ‘pond-like’, three as being ‘lake-like’, and four as being ‘mixed’. Unlike studies performed elsewhere, however, these ponds do not exhibit high probabilities of interspecific hybridization. Over 95% of all individuals have either a lake-like or a pond-like genotype at all three genetic systems, suggesting the two forms do not represent hybridized vs. nonhybridized genotypes. Because both types can be found in the same ponds at the same time in gametic disequilibrium, we also discount the possibility that they are two extremes of a single species that is highly genetically subdivided. With these genetic data, and with supporting life-history and ecological data previously gathered on these pond populations, we conclude that the most likely description of this system is of a taxon caught in the act of speciating, with new pond-adapted populations periodically stemming from lake-adapted sources during river flooding events.

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