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Keywords:

  • environmental modulation;
  • evolution;
  • phenotypic variation;
  • polymorphism

Recent models suggest that the existence of environmentally induced polymorphisms within a single population (especially those related to foraging) facilitates the process of evolutionary divergence within a single gene pool by generating distinct phenotypic modes that are exposed to differential selection. In order to test a prediction of the phenotypic plasticity model of divergence, we used a well-documented polymorphism to disentangle the relative effects of morph and rearing environment in generating phenotypic variance. We reared first-generation offspring of two sympatric morphs of Arctic charr Salvelinus alpinus in the laboratory and compared their head morphology with that of their wild parents. Morphological characters with a known functional role in foraging were highly plastic. Rearing environment accounted for the largest component of the variation in expressed phenotype, but this environmental effect overlaid a clear (but small) genetic effect. We conclude that phenotypic plasticity has played a significant role in the evolution of this trophic polymorphism, but that the evolutionary process has progressed to the point that the gene pool is now segregated. © 2004 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2004, 81, 611–618.