Proteomic evidence of a paedomorphic evolutionary process within a marine snail species: a strategy for adapting to extreme ecological conditions?


Correspondence: Angel P. Diz, Department of Biochemistry, Genetics and Immunology, Faculty of Biology, University of Vigo, 36310, Vigo, Spain. Tel.: +34 986813828; fax: +34 986813828; e-mail:


The exposed and sheltered ecotypes of the marine snail Littorina saxatilis from European rocky shores are considered a key model system to study adaptation and ecological speciation. Previous studies showed that two ecotypes (RB and SU) of this species in NW Spain have adapted differently to different shore levels and microhabitats. In order to understand how this divergent adaptive process has been accomplished, we followed a quantitative proteomic approach to investigate the proteome variation in a number of different biological factors, that is, ecotype, ontogeny and their interactions. This approach allowed testing the hypothesis that one of the ecotypes has evolved by paedomorphosis, and also whether or not the molecular mechanisms related to ecotype differentiation are set up in early developmental stages. Additionally, the identification of some candidate proteins using mass spectrometry provides some functional insights into these evolutionary processes. Results from this study provided evidence of higher ontogenetic differentiation at proteome level in the RB (metamorphic) than in SU (paedomorphic) ecotype that point to the possibility of juvenile stage retention in this latter ecotype. The level of protein expression (proteome) differences between ecotypes maintained nearly constant from late embryonic stages to adulthood, although some proteins involved in these changes considerably differed in embryonic compared to other ontogenetic stages. Paedomorphosis may be the evolutionary response of the SU ecotype of solving the trade-off during sexually immaturity that is caused by the evolution of small size arising from adaptation to the wave-exposed habitat. Some potential candidate genes of adaptation related to energetic metabolism have been identified, providing a promising baseline for future functional analyses.