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  • Mück, Isabel; Heubel, Katja U. (2018)
    Although it has become clear that sexual selection may shape mating systems and drive speciation, the potential constraints of environmental factors on processes and outcomes of sexual selection are largely unexplored. Here, we investigate the geographic variation of such environmental factors, more precisely the quality and quantity of nest resources (bivalve shells) along a salinity gradient in the Baltic Sea Area (Baltic Sea, Sounds and Belts, and Kattegat). We further test whether we find any salinity-associated morphological differences in body size between populations of common gobies Pomatoschistus microps, a small marine fish with a resource-based mating system. In a geographically expansive field study, we sampled 5 populations of P. microps occurring along the salinity gradient (decreasing from West to East) in the Baltic Sea Area over 3 consecutive years. Nest resource quantity and quality decreased from West to East, and a correlation between mussel size and male body size was detected. Population density, sex ratios, mating- and reproductive success as well as brood characteristics also differed between populations but with a less clear relation to salinity. With this field study we shed light on geographic variation of distinct environmental parameters possibly acting on population differentiation. We provide insights on relevant ecological variation, and draw attention to its importance in the framework of context-dependent plasticity of sexual selection.
  • Shikano, Takahito; Laine, Veronika N.; Herczeg, Gabor; Vilkki, Johanna; Merilä, Juha (2013)
  • Eriksson, Britas Klemens; Yanos, Casey; Bourlat, Sarah J.; Donadi, Serena; Fontaine, Michael C.; Hansen, Joakim P.; Jakubaviciute, Egle; Kiragosyan, Karine; Maan, Martine E.; Merilä, Juha; Austin, Åsa N.; Olsson, Jens; Reiss, Katrin; Sundblad, Göran; Bergström, Ulf; Eklöf, Johan S. (2021)
    Declines of large predatory fish due to overexploitation are restructuring food webs across the globe. It is now becoming evident that restoring these altered food webs requires addressing not only ecological processes, but evolutionary ones as well, because human-induced rapid evolution may in turn affect ecological dynamics. We studied the potential for niche differentiation between different plate armor phenotypes in a rapidly expanding population of a small prey fish, the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus). In the central Baltic Sea, three-spined stickleback abundance has increased dramatically during the past decades. The increase in this typical mesopredator has restructured near-shore food webs, increased filamentous algal blooms, and threatens coastal biodiversity. Time-series data covering 22 years show that the increase coincides with a decline in the number of juvenile perch (Perca fluviatilis), the most abundant predator of stickleback along the coast. We investigated the distribution of different stickleback plate armor phenotypes depending on latitude, environmental conditions, predator and prey abundances, nutrients, and benthic production; and described the stomach content of the stickleback phenotypes using metabarcoding. We found two distinct lateral armor plate phenotypes of stickleback, incompletely and completely plated. The proportion of incompletely plated individuals increased with increasing benthic production and decreasing abundances of adult perch. Metabarcoding showed that the stomach content of the completely plated individuals more often contained invertebrate herbivores (amphipods) than the incompletely plated ones. Since armor plates are defense structures favored by natural selection in the presence of fish predators, the phenotype distribution suggests that a novel low-predation regime favors stickleback with less armor. Our results suggest that morphological differentiation of the three-spined stickleback has the potential to affect food web dynamics and influence the persistence and resilience of the stickleback take-over in the Baltic Sea.
  • Bolotovskiy, Aleksey A.; Levina, Marina A.; DeFaveri, Jacquelin; Merila, Juha; Levin, Boris A. (2018)
    The three-spined stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus is an important model for studying microevolution and parallel adaptation to freshwater environments. Marine and freshwater forms differ markedly in their phenotype, especially in the number of lateral plates, which are serially repeated elements of the exoskeleton. In fishes, thyroid hormones are involved in adaptation to salinity, as well as the developmental regulation of serially repeated elements. To study how thyroid hormones influence lateral plate development, we manipulated levels of triiodothyronine and thiourea during early ontogeny in a marine and freshwater population with complete and low plate phenotypes, respectively. The development of lateral plates along the body and keel was heterochronic among experimental groups. Fish with a low dosage of exogenous triiodothyronine and those treated with thiourea exhibited retarded development of bony plates compared to both control fish and those treated with higher a triiodothyronine dosage. Several triiodothyronine-treated individuals of the marine form expressed the partial lateral plate phenotype. Some individuals with delayed development of lateral plates manifested 1-2 extra bony plates located above the main row of lateral plates.
  • Fang, Bohao; Kemppainen, Petri; Momigliano, Paolo; Feng, Xueyun; Merilä, Juha (2020)
    The three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) is an important model system for the study of parallel evolution in the wild, having repeatedly colonized and adapted to freshwater from the sea throughout the northern hemisphere. Previous studies identified numerous genomic regions showing consistent genetic differentiation between freshwater and marine ecotypes but these had typically limited geographic sampling and mostly focused on the Eastern Pacific region. We analysed population genomic data from global samples of the three-spined stickleback marine and freshwater ecotypes to detect loci involved in parallel evolution at different geographic scales. Most signatures of parallel evolution were unique to the Eastern Pacific and trans-oceanic marine-freshwater differentiation was restricted to a limited number of shared genomic regions, including three chromosomal inversions. On the basis of simulations and empirical data, we demonstrate that this could result from the stochastic loss of freshwater-adapted alleles during the invasion of the Atlantic basin and selection against freshwater-adapted variants in the sea, both of which can reduce standing genetic variation available for freshwater adaptation outside the Eastern Pacific region. Moreover, the elevated linkage disequilibrium associated with marine-freshwater differentiation in the Eastern Pacific is consistent with secondary contact between marine and freshwater populations that evolved in isolation from each other during past glacial periods. Thus, contrary to what earlier studies from the Eastern Pacific region have led us to believe, parallel marine-freshwater differentiation in sticklebacks is far less prevalent and pronounced in all other parts of the species global distribution range. Population genomic data from a global dataset of three-spined sticklebacks show that parallel signatures of marine to freshwater differentiation are less common than previously thought.
  • Tibblin, Petter; Hall, Marcus; Svensson, P. Andreas; Merila, Juha; Forsman, Anders (2020)
    Phenotypic flexibility may incur a selective advantage in changing and heterogeneous environments, and is increasingly recognized as an integral aspect of organismal adaptation. Despite the widespread occurrence and potential importance of rapid and reversible background-mediated color change for predator avoidance, knowledge gaps remain regarding its adaptive value, repeatability within individuals, phenotypic correlates, and whether its expression is context dependent. We used manipulative experiments to investigate these issues in two fish species, the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) and nine-spined stickleback (Pungitius pungitius). We sequentially exposed individuals to dark and light visual background treatments, quantified color change from video recordings, and examined associations of color change with phenotypic dimensions that can influence the outcome of predator-prey interactions. G. aculeatus expressed a greater degree of color change compared to P. pungitius. In G. aculeatus, the color change response was repeatable within individuals. Moreover, the color change response was independent of body size but affected by sex and boldness, with males and bolder individuals changing less. Infection by the parasite Schistocephalus solidus did not affect the degree of color change, but it did modulate its association with sex and boldness. G. aculeatus adjusted the expression of color change in response to predation risk, with enhanced color change expression in individuals exposed to either simulated attacks, or olfactory cues from a natural predator. These results provide novel evidence on repeatability, correlated traits, and context dependence in the color change response and highlight how a suite of factors can contribute to individual variation in phenotypic flexibility.
  • Candolin, Ulrika; Voigt, Heinz-Rudolf (2020)
    Human activity is altering the dynamics of populations through effects on fecundity, mortality and migration. An increased abundance of three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) in the Baltic Sea has been attributed to a human-caused decline of top predators. However, recent research indicates that a top-down effect cannot fully explain the population growth, but the contribution of a bottom-up effect has not been investigated. Yet, anthropogenic eutrophication has increased algae biomass at the spawning sites of the stickleback and, thus, the abundance of benthic prey. We investigated if increased fecundity could have contributed to the population growth of the stickleback by analysing a two decade time series of stickleback abundance, fecundity, and body size at three spawning sites. The results show an increase in the proportion of gravid females in the populations, which correlates with the population growth. In particular, the proportion of gravid females late in the spawning season has increased, which indicates enhanced food intake at the sites during the spawning season. Thus, a bottom-up effect could have contributed to the growth of the populations by increasing the number of egg clutches females produce. These results stress the importance of considering both bottom-up and top-down processes when investigating the mechanisms behind human impact on population dynamics.
  • Wang, Yingnan; Zhao, Yongxin; Wang, Yu; Li, Zitong; Guo, Baocheng; Merilä, Juha (2020)
    Abstract The degree to which adaptation to similar selection pressures is underlain by parallel vs. non-parallel genetic changes is a topic of broad interest in contemporary evolutionary biology. Sticklebacks provide opportunities to characterize and compare the genetic underpinnings of repeated marine-freshwater divergences at both intra- and interspecific levels. While the degree of genetic parallelism in repeated marine-freshwater divergences has been frequently studied in the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus), much less is known about this in other stickleback species. Using a population transcriptomic approach, we identified both genetic and gene expression variations associated with marine-freshwater divergence in the nine-spined stickleback (Pungitius pungitius). Specifically, we used a genome-wide association study approach, and found that ~1% of the total 173,491 identified SNPs showed marine-freshwater ecotypic differentiation. A total of 861 genes were identified to have SNPs associated with marine-freshwater divergence in nine-spined stickleback, but only 12 of these genes have also been reported as candidates associated with marine-freshwater divergence in the three-spined stickleback. Hence, our results indicate a low degree of interspecific genetic parallelism in marine-freshwater divergence. Moreover, 1,578 genes in the brain and 1,050 genes in the liver were differentially expressed between marine and freshwater nine-spined sticklebacks, ~5% of which have also been identified as candidates associated with marine-freshwater divergence in the three-spined stickleback. However, only few of these (e.g., CLDND1) appear to have been involved in repeated marine-freshwater divergence in nine-spined sticklebacks. Taken together, the results indicate a low degree of genetic parallelism in repeated marine-freshwater divergence both at intra- and interspecific levels.
  • Yang, Jing; Guo, Baocheng; Shikano, Takahito; Liu, Xiaolin; Merilä, Juha (2016)
    Heritable phenotypic differences between populations, caused by the selective effects of distinct environmental conditions, are of commonplace occurrence in nature. However, the actual genomic targets of this kind of selection are still poorly understood. We conducted a quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping study to identify genomic regions responsible for morphometric differentiation between genetically and phenotypically divergent marine and freshwater nine-spined stickleback (Pungitius pungitius) populations. Using a dense panel of SNP-markers obtained by restriction site associated DNA sequencing of an F-2 recombinant cross, we found 22 QTL that explained 3.5-12.9% of phenotypic variance in the traits under investigation. We detected one fairly large-effect (PVE = 9.6%) QTL for caudal peduncle length-a trait with a well-established adaptive function showing clear differentiation among marine and freshwater populations. We also identified two large-effect QTL for lateral plate numbers, which are different from the lateral plate QTL reported in earlier studies of this and related species. Hence, apart from identifying several large-effect QTL in shape traits showing adaptive differentiation in response to different environmental conditions, the results suggest intra-and interspecific heterogeneity in the genomic basis of lateral plate number variation.
  • Morozov, Sergey; Leinonen, Tuomas; Merilä, Juha; McCairns, R. J. Scott (2018)
    Conspecifics inhabiting divergent environments frequently differ in morphology, physiology, and performance, but the interrelationships amongst traits and with Darwinian fitness remains poorly understood. We investigated population differentiation in morphology, metabolic rate, and swimming performance in three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus L.), contrasting a marine/ancestral population with two distinct freshwater morphotypes derived from it: the typical low-plated morph, and a unique small-plated morph. We test the hypothesis that similar to plate loss in other freshwater populations, reduction in lateral plate size also evolved in response to selection. Additionally, we test how morphology, physiology, and performance have evolved in concert as a response to differences in selection between marine and freshwater environments. We raised pure-bred second-generation fish originating from three populations and quantified their lateral plate coverage, burst- and critical swimming speeds, as well as standard and active metabolic rates. Using a multivariate Q(ST)-F-ST framework, we detected signals of directional selection on metabolic physiology and lateral plate coverage, notably demonstrating that selection is responsible for the reduction in lateral plate coverage in a small-plated stickleback population. We also uncovered signals of multivariate selection amongst all bivariate trait combinations except the two metrics of swimming performance. Divergence between the freshwater and marine populations exceeded neutral expectation in morphology and in most physiological and performance traits, indicating that adaptation to freshwater habitats has occurred, but through different combinations of traits in different populations. These results highlight both the complex interplay between morphology, physiology and performance in local adaptation, and a framework for their investigation.
  • Konijnendijk, Nellie; Shikano, Takahito; Daneels, Dorien; Volckaert, Filip A. M.; Raeymaekers, Joost A. M. (2015)
    Local adaptation is often obvious when gene flow is impeded, such as observed at large spatial scales and across strong ecological contrasts. However, it becomes less certain at small scales such as between adjacent populations or across weak ecological contrasts, when gene flow is strong. While studies on genomic adaptation tend to focus on the former, less is known about the genomic targets of natural selection in the latter situation. In this study, we investigate genomic adaptation in populations of the three-spined stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus L. across a small-scale ecological transition with salinities ranging from brackish to fresh. Adaptation to salinity has been repeatedly demonstrated in this species. A genome scan based on 87 microsatellite markers revealed only few signatures of selection, likely owing to the constraints that homogenizing gene flow puts on adaptive divergence. However, the detected loci appear repeatedly as targets of selection in similar studies of genomic adaptation in the three-spined stickleback. We conclude that the signature of genomic selection in the face of strong gene flow is weak, yet detectable. We argue that the range of studies of genomic divergence should be extended to include more systems characterized by limited geographical and ecological isolation, which is often a realistic setting in nature.
  • Hasan, M. Mehedi; De Faveri, Jacquelin; Kuure, Satu; Dash, Surjya N.; Lehtonen, Sanna; Merila, Juha; McCairns, R. J. Scott (2017)
    Novel physiological challenges in different environments can promote the evolution of divergent phenotypes, either through plastic or genetic changes. Environmental salinity serves as a key barrier to the distribution of nearly all aquatic organisms, and species diversification is likely to be enabled by adaptation to alternative osmotic environments. The threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) is a euryhaline species with populations found both in marine and freshwater environments. It has evolved both highly plastic and locally adapted phenotypes due to salinity-derived selection, but the physiological and genetic basis of adaptation to salinity is not fully understood. We integrated comparative cellular morphology of the kidney, a key organ for osmoregulation, and candidate gene expression to explore the underpinnings of evolved variation in osmotic plasticity within two populations of sticklebacks from distinct salinity zones in the Baltic Sea: the high salinity Kattegat, representative of the ancestral marine habitat; and the low salinity Bay of Bothnia. A common-garden experiment revealed that kidney morphology in the ancestral high-salinity population had a highly plastic response to salinity conditions whereas this plastic response was reduced in the low-salinity population. Candidate gene expression in kidney tissue revealed a similar pattern of population specific differences, with a higher degree of plasticity in the native high-salinity population. Together these results suggest that renal cellular morphology has become canalized to low salinity, and that these structural differences may have functional implications for osmoregulation.