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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Mar 28, 1995; 92(7): 2602–2606.

Strong natural selection causes microscale allozyme variation in a marine snail.


Natural selection is one of the most fundamental processes in biology. However, there is still a controversy over the importance of selection in microevolution of molecular traits. Despite the general lack of data most authors hold the view that selection on molecular characters may be important, but at lower rates than selection on most phenotypic traits. Here we present evidence that natural selection may contribute substantially to molecular variation on a scale of meters only. In populations of the marine snail Littorina saxatilis living on exposed rocky shores, steep microclines in allele frequencies between splash and surf zone groups are present in the enzyme aspartate aminotransferase (allozyme locus Aat; EC. We followed one population over 7 years, including a period of strong natural perturbation. The surf zone part of the population dominated by the allele Aat100 was suddenly eliminated by a bloom of a toxin-producing microflagellate. Downshore migration of splash zone snails with predominantly Aat120 alleles resulted in a drastic increase in surf zone frequency of Aat120, from 0.4 to 0.8 over 2 years. Over the next four to six generations, however, the frequency of Aat120 returned to the original value. We estimated the coefficient of selection of Aat120 in the surf zone to be about 0.4. Earlier studies show similar or even sharper Aat clines in other countries. Thus, we conclude that microclinal selection is an important evolutionary force in this system.

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