Saturday, April 7, 2012

Guppy (Poecilia Reticulata) and Predators

Predators of Guppy are widely assumed to create selection that shapes the evolution of prey escape abilities. However, this assumption is difficult to test directly due to the challenge of recording both predation and its evolutionary consequences in the wild. We examined these events by studying natural and experimental populations of Trinidadian guppies, Poecilia reticulata, which occur in distinct high-predation and low-predation environments within streams.

Importantly, in the last two decades several populations of guppies have been experimentally introduced from one type of predatory environment into the other, allowing measurements of the consequences of change. We used this system to test two hypotheses: First, that changes in predatory environments create phenotypic selection favoring changes in escape ability of guppies, and second, that this selection can result in rapid evolution.

For the first test we compared escape ability of wild caught guppies from high- versus low-predation environments by measuring survival rates during staged encounters with a major predator, the pike cichlid Crenicichla alta. We used guppies from three streams, comparing two within-stream pairs of natural populations and three within-stream pairs of an introduced population versus its natural source population. In every comparison, guppy fish from the high-predation population showed higher survival. These multiple, parallel divergences in guppy survival phenotype suggest that predatory environment does create selection of escape ability.

We tested our second hypothesis by rearing guppies in common garden conditions in the laboratory, then repeating the earlier experiments using the F2 generation. As before, each comparison resulted in higher survival of guppies descended from the high-predation populations, demonstrating that population differences in escape ability have a genetic basis. These results also show that escape ability can evolve very rapidly in nature, that is, within 26–36 generations in the introduced populations. Interestingly, we found rapid evolutionary loss of escape ability in populations introduced into low-predation environments, suggesting that steep fitness trade-offs may influence the evolution of escape traits.

Sexual selection is thought to be opposed by natural selection such that ornamental traits express a balance between these two antagonistic influences. Phenotypic variation among populations may indicate local shifts in this balance, or that different stable ‘solutions’ are possible, but testing these alternatives presents a major challenge. In the guppy (Poecilia reticulata), a small freshwater fish with male-limited ornamental coloration, these issues can be addressed by transplanting fish among sites of varying predation pressure, thus effectively manipulating the strength and nature of natural selection. Here, we contrast the evolutionary outcome of two such introductions conducted in the Trinidadian El Cedro and Aripo Rivers. 

We use sophisticated colour appraisal methods that account for full spectrum colour variation
and which incorporate the very latest visual sensitivity data for guppies and their predators. Our data indicate that ornamentation evolved along different trajectories: whereas Aripo males evolved more numerous and/or larger orange, black and iridescent markings, El Cedro males only evolved more extensive and brighter iridescence. Examination of the El Cedro experiment also revealed little or no ornamental evolution at the control site over 29 years, which contrasts markedly with the rapid (approx. 2–3 years) changes reported for introduction populations.

Finally, whole colour-pattern analysis suggested that the greatest visual difference between El Cedro introduction and control fish would be perceived by the two most salient viewers: guppies and the putatively dangerous predator Crenicichla alta. We discuss whether and how these evolutionary trajectories may result from founder effects, population-specific mate preferences and/or sensory drive.


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