The oligochaete Limnodrilus hoffmeisteri at Foundry Cove (FC), New York evolved genetic resistance to cadmium (Cd) and lost resistance after contaminated sediments were removed by dredging. Selection (on survival time in dissolved Cd) was used to generate tolerance to evaluate fitness cost, the commonplace expectation for evolutionary reversal. The hypothesis that gene flow from neighboring populations could “swamp” resistance was addressed by 16S rDNA sequences. In disagreement with the cost hypothesis, selected-Cd tolerant worms and controls showed no difference in total fecundity or growth rate in environments. Highly-Cd-tolerant worms of the FC-selected population grew rapidly at different temperatures and showed no growth impairment in the presence of Cd, indicating metabolically efficient resistance. Genetic structure at FC was consistent with invasion of genotypes from an adjacent population in the time since dredging. Applying selection to lines from FC and a reference site, demonstrated a more rapid increase in Cd tolerance in FC-origin lines, indicating standing allelic variation for resistance at FC (despite phenotypic erosion). The selection experiment supports the view that resistance is simply controlled—probably by one allele of large effect. Whether such rapid “readaptation” could occur naturally is an important question for understanding broad effects of pollutants.
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