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J Morphol. 2011 May;272(5):590-7. doi: 10.1002/jmor.10939. Epub 2011 Mar 3.

Habitat-specific trends in ontogeny of body shape in stickleback from coastal archipelago: potential for rapid shifts in colonizing populations.

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Department of Biology, University of Victoria, P.O. Box 3020, Victoria, British Columbia V8W 3N5, Canada.


We investigated ontogenetic trends in body shape of 54 freshwater (48 lake, seven stream) and six anadromous populations of threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus L.) from the Haida Gwaii archipelago off the west coast of Canada. Multivariate analysis of covariance on the partial warp scores generated from 12 homologous landmarks on 1,958 digital images of subadult and adult male stickleback indicated that there was considerable variability of population ontogenetic slopes. We used discriminant function analysis to quantify body shape and determined that anadromous stickleback, which are ancestral to the freshwater populations, have a strongly negative ontogenetic slope (-5.62; increased streamlining with increased size). All freshwater populations exhibit a more positive slope (91% differed significantly from the marine slope), with the differences being most accentuated in populations from ponds and streams. In pristine lakes, ontogenetic slope could be predicted by lake volume as well as multivariate measures of habitat. Evidence from field transplant experiments of one of the intact populations indicates a rapid change (5 years) from allometric to isometric growth, equivalent to about half of the total slope variation among intact populations on the archipelago. We interpret this shift as developmental plasticity and suggest this may comprise the precursor for selection of optimal body shapes in these stickleback populations.

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