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Keywords:

  • evolutionary rates;
  • eutrophication;
  • gill rakers counts;
  • introgressive hybridization;
  • selection intensity

Abstract

Whitefish, genus Coregonus, show exceptional levels of phenotypic diversity with sympatric morphs occurring in numerous postglacial lakes in the northern hemisphere. Here, we studied the effects of human-induced eutrophication on sympatric whitefish morphs in the Swiss lake, Lake Thun. In particular, we addressed the questions whether eutrophication (i) induced hybridization between two ecologically divergent summer-spawning morphs through a loss of environmental heterogeneity, and (ii) induced rapid adaptive morphological changes through changes in the food web structure. Genetic analysis based on 11 microsatellite loci of 282 spawners revealed that the pelagic and the benthic morph represent highly distinct gene pools occurring at different relative proportions on all seven known spawning sites. Gill raker counts, a highly heritable trait, showed nearly discrete distributions for the two morphs. Multilocus genotypes characteristic of the pelagic morph had more gill rakers than genotypes characteristic of benthic morph. Using Bayesian methods, we found indications of recent but limited introgressive hybridization. Comparisons with historical gill raker data yielded median evolutionary rates of 0.24 haldanes and median selection intensities of 0.27 for this trait in both morphs for 1948–2004 suggesting rapid evolution through directional selection at this trait. However, phenotypic plasticity as an alternative explanation for this phenotypic change cannot be discarded. We hypothesize that both the temporal shifts in mean gill raker counts and the recent hybridization reflect responses to changes in the trophic state of the lake induced by pollution in the 1960s, which created novel selection pressures with respect to feeding niches and spawning site preferences.