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Integr Comp Biol. 2008 Dec;48(6):750-68. doi: 10.1093/icb/icn092. Epub 2008 Nov 16.

Predictability of phenotypic differentiation across flow regimes in fishes.

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*Museum of Comparative Zoology and Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


Fish inhabit environments greatly varying in intensity of water velocity, and these flow regimes are generally believed to be of major evolutionary significance. To what extent does water flow drive repeatable and predictable phenotypic differentiation? Although many investigators have examined phenotypic variation across flow gradients in fishes, no clear consensus regarding the nature of water velocity's effects on phenotypic diversity has yet emerged. Here, I describe a generalized model that produces testable hypotheses of morphological and locomotor differentiation between flow regimes in fishes. The model combines biomechanical information (describing how fish morphology determines locomotor abilities) with ecological information (describing how locomotor performance influences fitness) to yield predictions of divergent natural selection and phenotypic differentiation between low-flow and high-flow environments. To test the model's predictions of phenotypic differentiation, I synthesized the existing literature and conducted a meta-analysis. Based on results gathered from 80 studies, providing 115 tests of predictions, the model produced some accurate results across both intraspecific and interspecific scales, as differences in body shape, caudal fin shape, and steady-swimming performance strongly matched predictions. These results suggest that water flow drives predictable phenotypic variation in disparate groups of fish based on a common, generalized model, and that microevolutionary processes might often scale up to generate broader, interspecific patterns. However, too few studies have examined differentiation in body stiffness, muscle architecture, or unsteady-swimming performance to draw clear conclusions for those traits. The analysis revealed that, at the intraspecific scale, both genetic divergence and phenotypic plasticity play important roles in phenotypic differentiation across flow regimes, but we do not yet know the relative importance of these two sources of phenotypic variation. Moreover, while major patterns within and between species were predictable, we have little direct evidence regarding the role of water flow in driving speciation or generating broad, macroevolutionary patterns, as too few studies have addressed these topics or conducted analyses within a phylogenetic framework. Thus, flow regime does indeed drive some predictable phenotypic outcomes, but many questions remain unanswered. This study establishes a general model for predicting phenotypic differentiation across flow regimes in fishes, and should help guide future studies in fruitful directions, thereby enhancing our understanding of the predictability of phenotypic variation in nature.


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