Adaptive Phenotypic Diversification along a Temperature-Depth Gradient

Jan Ohlberger et al. in The American Naturalist

Jan Ohlberger, Åke Brännström and Ulf Dieckmann


Theoretical models suggest that sympatric speciation along environmental gradients might be common in nature. Here we present the first data-based model of evolutionary diversification along a continuous environmental gradient. On the basis of genetic analyses, it has been suggested that a pair of coregonid fishes (Coregonus spp.) in a postglacial German lake originated by sympatric speciation. Within this lake, the two species segregate vertically and show metabolic adaptations to, as well as behavioral preferences for, correspondingly different temperatures. We test the plausibility of the hypothesis that this diversifying process has been driven by adaptations to different thermal microhabitats along the lake’s temperature-depth gradient. Using an adaptive-dynamics model that is calibrated with empirical data and allows the gradual evolution of a quantitative trait describing optimal foraging temperature, we show that under the specific environmental conditions in the lake, evolutionary branching of a hypothetical ancestral population into two distinct phenotypes may have occurred. We also show that the resultant evolutionary diversification yields two stably coexisting populations with trait values and depth distributions that are in agreement with those currently observed in the lake. We conclude that divergent thermal adaptations along the temperature-depth gradient might have brought about the two species observed today.

September 2013
Vol. 182, No. 3, pp. 359-373

Tags: The American Naturalist
Published Aug. 14, 2013 10:55 AM - Last modified Mar. 25, 2014 10:17 PM