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Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Oct 22;273(1601):2611-8.

Rapid adaptive divergence of life-history traits in response to abiotic stress within a natural population of a parthenogenetic nematode.

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Laboratory of Nematology, Wageningen University, Binnenhaven 5, 6709 PD Wageningen, The Netherlands.


Sexual reproduction is acknowledged to facilitate adaptation to novel environments while asexual eukaryotes are often regarded as having low adaptive potential. This view has been challenged in a number of studies, but the adaptive potential of asexual populations in the field is poorly documented. We investigated the response of natural populations of the parthenogenetic nematode Acrobeloides nanus to imposed divergent selective pressures. For this purpose, we employed a replicated evolution experiment in the field. After 20 years of evolution under abiotic stress and control conditions, life-history traits were assessed in reaction norm- and reciprocal transplant experiments. Both these experiments indicated adaptive divergence within the population of A. nanus. Namely, the transplant experiment demonstrated that in the stressed soil environment, body growth rate was more reduced in the nematodes originating from the control treatment. In the reaction norm experiment, survival and reproduction were higher under test conditions corresponding to the native environment of the nematodes. The differences in the analysed traits are discussed in the context of life-history theory. Overall, our results strongly support high adaptive potential of A. nanus and suggest that population structure and distribution of asexual species is shaped by local adaptation events.

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