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Environ Pollut. 2002;117(1):101-9.

Dynamics of metal adaptation in riverine chironomids.

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  • 1Department of Aquatic Ecology and Ecotoxicology, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


The ability of the non-biting midge Chironomus riparius to survive and reproduce in metal polluted lowland rivers facilitates the opportunity to study micro-evolutionary processes in situ. However, due to larval drift, adapted midge populations are subject to regular immigration of non-adapted specimens from clean upstream river reaches. To examine the influence of non-adapted genes in adapted midge populations on the level of metal adaptation, an upstream and downstream chironomid population were crossbred on eight separate occasions in the laboratory to mimic gene flow. Several life-history characteristics, indicating adaptation to metals, were followed seasonally in the parental strains as well as in the reciprocal crossings. Such crossings were done over a 14-month period and maternal effects were found to be absent, indicating a major genetic component for the increased metal tolerance in the exposed midge populations. Furthermore, results confirmed the presence of adaptation to metals in exposed chironomids. However, a rapid loss of metal adaptation in the first generation hybrid offspring was clearly demonstrated. Consequently, the large temporal variation in metal adaptation in midge populations from the river can be explained by the earlier reported seasonal variations in selection pressure and immigration rates from non-adapted sub-populations.

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