Phenotypic plasticity is maintained despite geographical isolation in an African cichlid fish, Pseudocrenilabrus multicolor



Gene flow among populations in different selective environments should favor the evolution of phenotypic plasticity over local adaptation. Plasticity in development is a common response to long-term hypoxia in some widespread African fishes, including Pseudocrenilabrus multicolor, a cichlid that exploits both normoxic (high oxygen) rivers/lakes and hypoxic (low oxygen) swamps. Previous studies have shown that fish from normoxic and hypoxic sites differ in many traits, including gill size, brain size and body shape, and that much of this variation reflects developmental plasticity. However, these earlier studies focused on areas in Uganda where gene flow between swamp and river or lake populations is high. In this study we tested the hypothesis that P. multicolor from a relatively isolated lake population (Lake Saka, Uganda) exhibit low levels of plasticity in traits related to oxygen uptake. Multiple broods of P. multicolor from Lake Saka were reared under low and high dissolved oxygen, and traits related to gill size, brain mass and body shape were quantified. Surprisingly, both gill size and brain mass showed high levels of developmental plasticity. We suggest that high levels of plasticity, particularly in the gill size of P. multicolor, reflects low costs of maintaining the plastic response, even in relatively isolated populations.