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Ecol Appl. 2007 Dec;17(8):2290-7.

Genetic mechanisms of pollution resistance in a marine invertebrate.

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School of Integrative Biology, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Queensland 4072, Australia.


Pollution is a common stress in the marine environment and one of today's most powerful agents of selection, yet we have little understanding of how anthropogenic toxicants influence mechanisms of adaptation in marine populations. Due to their life history strategies, marine invertebrates are unable to avoid stress and must adapt to variable environments. We examined the genetic basis of pollution resistance across multiple environments using the marine invertebrate, Styela plicata. Gametes were crossed in a quantitative genetic breeding design to enable partitioning of additive genetic variance across a concentration gradient of a common marine pollutant, copper. Hatching success was scored as a measure of stress resistance in copper concentrations of 0, 75, 150, and 350 microg/L. There was a significant genotype x environment interaction in hatching success across copper concentrations. Further analysis using factor analytic modeling confirmed a significant dimension of across-environment genetic variation where the genetic basis of resistance to stress in the first three environments differed from that in the environment of highest copper concentration. A second genetic dimension further differentiated between the genetic basis of resistance to low and high stress environments. These results suggest that marine organisms use different genetic mechanisms to adapt to different levels of pollution and that the level of genetic variation to adapt to intense pollution stresses may be limited.

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