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J Evol Biol. 2004 Jul;17(4):807-20.

Variation in natural selection for growth and phlorotannins in the brown alga Fucus vesiculosus.

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  • 1Section of Ecology, Department of Biology, University of Turku, Turku, Finland.


Directional selection for plant traits associated with resistance to herbivory tends to eliminate genetic variation in such traits. On the other hand, balancing selection arising from trade-offs between resistance and growth or spatially variable selection acts against the elimination of genetic variation. We explore both the amount of genetic variation and variability of natural selection for growth and concentration of phenolic secondary compounds, phlorotannins, in the brown alga Fucus vesiculosus. We measured variation in selection at two growing depths and two levels of nutrient availability in algae that had faced two kinds of past growing environments. Genetic variation was low for growth but high for phlorotannins. The form and strength of selection for both focal traits depended on the past growing environment of the algae. We found strong directional selection for growth rate in algae previously subjected to higher ultraviolet radiation, but not in algae previously subjected to higher nutrient availability. Stabilizing selection for growth occurred especially in the deep growing environment. Selection for phlorotannins was generally weak, but in some past-environment-current-environment combinations we detected either directional selection against phlorotannins or stabilizing selection. Thus, phlorotannins are not selectively neutral but affect the fitness of F. vesiculosus. In particular, there may be a fitness cost of producing phlorotannins, but the realization of such a cost varies from one environment to another. Genetic correlations between selective environments were high for growth but nonexistent for phlorotannins, emphasizing the high phenotypic plasticity of phlorotannin production. The highly heterogeneous selection, including directional, stabilizing, and spatially variable selection as well as temporal change in selection due to responses to past environmental conditions, probably maintains a high amount of genetic variation in phlorotannins. Such variation provides the potential for rapid evolutionary response of phlorotannins under directional selection.

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