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Evolution. 2004 Jan;58(1):81-94.

Habitat-specific pigmentation in a freshwater isopod: adaptive evolution over a small spatiotemporal scale.

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Limnology, Department of Ecology, University of Lund, S-223 62 Lund, Sweden.


Pigmentation in the freshwater isopod Asellus aquaticus (Crustacea) differed between habitats in two Swedish lakes. In both lakes, isopods had lighter pigmentation in stands of submerged vegetation, consisting of stoneworts (Chara spp.), than in nearby stands of reed (Phragmites australis). Experimental crossings of light and dark isopods in a common environment showed that pigmentation had a genetic basis and that genetic variance was additive. Environmental effects of diet or chromatophore adjustment to the background had minor influence on pigmentation, as shown by laboratory rearing of isopods on stonewort or reed substrates, as well as analyses of stable isotope ratios for isopods collected in the field. In both study lakes, the average phenotype became lighter with time (across generations) in recently established stonewort stands. Taken together, these results indicate that altered phenotype pigmentation result from evolutionary responses to local differences in natural selection. Based on the assumption of two generations per year, the evolutionary rate of change in pigmentation was 0.08 standard deviations per generation (haldanes) over 20 generations in one lake and 0.22 haldanes over two generations in the other lake. This genetic change occurred during an episode of population growth in a novel habitat, a situation known to promote adaptive evolution. In addition, stonewort stands constitute large and persistent patches, characteristics that tend to preserve local adaptations produced by natural selection. Results from studies on selective forces behind the adaptive divergence suggest that selective predation from visually oriented predators is a possible selective agent. We found no indications of phenotype-specific movements between habitats. Mating within stonewort stands was random with respect to pigmentation, but on a whole-lake scale it is likely that mating is assortative, as a result of local differences in phenotype distribution.

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