The evolutionary forces maintaining a wild polymorphism of Littorina saxatilis: model selection by computer simulations


Armando Caballero, Departamento de Bioquímica, Genética e Inmunología, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Vigo, 36200 Vigo, Spain.
Tel.: +34 986 812 568; fax: +34 986 812 556;


Two rocky shore ecotypes of Littorina saxatilis from north-west Spain live at different shore levels and habitats and have developed an incomplete reproductive isolation through size assortative mating. The system is regarded as an example of sympatric ecological speciation. Several experiments have indicated that different evolutionary forces (migration, assortative mating and habitat-dependent selection) play a role in maintaining the polymorphism. However, an assessment of the combined contributions of these forces supporting the observed pattern in the wild is absent. A model selection procedure using computer simulations was used to investigate the contribution of the different evolutionary forces towards the maintenance of the polymorphism. The agreement between alternative models and experimental estimates for a number of parameters was quantified by a least square method. The results of the analysis show that the fittest evolutionary model for the observed polymorphism is characterized by a high gene flow, intermediate-high reproductive isolation between ecotypes, and a moderate to strong selection against the nonresident ecotypes on each shore level. In addition, a substantial number of additive loci contributing to the selected trait and a narrow hybrid definition with respect to the phenotype are scenarios that better explain the polymorphism, whereas the ecotype fitnesses at the mid-shore, the level of phenotypic plasticity, and environmental effects are not key parameters.