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Genetica. 2001;112-113:445-61.

Lateral plate evolution in the threespine stickleback: getting nowhere fast.

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Department of Ecology and Evolution, State University of New York, Stony Brook 11794-5245, USA.


Gasterosteus aculeatus is a small Holarctic fish with marine, anadromous, and freshwater populations. Marine and anadromous populations apparently have changed little in the past 10 million years and exhibit limited geographical variation. In contrast, freshwater isolates have been founded repeatedly by marine and anadromous populations, and post-glacial isolates have undergone extraordinary adaptive radiation. Stickleback traits that have diversified during post-glacial radiation, including the 'lateral plates' (LP), can evolve substantially within decades after colonization of fresh water or when the environment (particularly predation regime) changes. Although highly divergent freshwater isolates of G. aculeatus have existed for at least 10 million years, they have rarely experienced sustained evolutionary divergence leading to formation of widespread, phenotypically distinct species. The paradox of rapid LP evolution without sustained divergence has resulted from selective extinction of highly divergent populations, because they are specialized for conditions in small, isolated habitats that tend to dry up within limited periods. Biological species of G. aculeatus may also evolve within decades, and are also prone to extinction because they are endemic to and specialized for small, ephemeral habitats. The high rate of evolution observed in contemporary threespine stickleback populations may not be unique to this species complex and has important implications for use of post-glacial populations in comparative studies, speciation rate, and discrimination of sympatric and allopatric speciation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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