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Ecology. 2010 May;91(5):1494-505.

Toxic hydrogen sulfide and dark caves: life-history adaptations in a livebearing fish (Poecilia mexicana, Poeciliidae).

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Graduate Program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Department of Zoology, University of Oklahoma, 730 Van Vleet Oval, Norman, Oklahoma 73019, USA.


Life-history traits are very sensitive to extreme environmental conditions, because resources that need to be invested in somatic maintenance cannot be invested in reproduction. Here we examined female life-history traits in the Mexican livebearing fish Poecilia mexicana from a variety of benign surface habitats, a creek with naturally occurring toxic hydrogen sulfide (H2S), a sulfidic cave, and a non-sulfidic cave. Previous studies revealed pronounced genetic and morphological divergence over very small geographic scales in this system despite the absence of physical barriers, suggesting that local adaptation to different combinations of two selection factors, toxicity (H2S) and darkness, is accompanied by very low rates of gene flow. Hence, we investigated life-history divergence between these populations in response to the selective pressures of darkness and/or toxicity. Our main results show that toxicity and darkness both select for (or impose constraints on) the same female trait dynamics: reduced fecundity and increased offspring size. Since reduced fecundity in the sulfur cave population was previously shown to be heritable, we discuss how divergent life-history evolution may promote further ecological divergence: for example, reduced fecundity and increased offspring autonomy are clearly beneficial in extreme environments, but fish with these traits are outcompeted in benign habitats.

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