Phenotypic and genetic divergence within a single whitefish form – detecting the potential for future divergence



Human-induced nutrient input can change the selection regime and lead to the loss of biodiversity. For example, eutrophication caused speciation reversal in polymorphic whitefish populations through a flattening of littoral–pelagic selection gradients. We investigated the current state of phenotypic and genetic diversity in whitefish (Coregonus macrophthalmus) in a newly restored lake whose nutrient load has returned to pre-eutrophication levels and found that whitefish spawning at different depths varied phenotypically and genetically: individuals spawning at shallower depth had fewer gill rakers, faster growth, and a morphology adapted to benthic feeding, and they showed higher degrees of diet specialization than deeper spawning individuals. Microsatellite analyses complemented the phenotype analyses by demonstrating reproductive isolation along different spawning depths. Our results indicate that whitefish still retain or currently regain phenotypic and genetic diversity, which was lost during eutrophication. Hence, the population documented here has a potential for future divergence because natural selection can target phenotypes specialized along re-established littoral–pelagic selection gradients. The biodiversity, however, will have better chances to return if managers acknowledge the evolutionary potential within the local whitefish and adapt fishing and stocking measures.