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Genetic Variation and Polymorphism in the Inducible Spines of a Marine Bryozoan

C. Drew Harvell
Evolution
Vol. 52, No. 1 (Feb., 1998), pp. 80-86
DOI: 10.2307/2410922
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2410922
Page Count: 7
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Genetic Variation and Polymorphism in the Inducible Spines of a Marine Bryozoan
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Abstract

Of particular value in understanding the evolution of genotypes with broad phenotypic ranges (phenotypic plasticity) are the few examples of organisms with adaptive plasticity, such as those that develop a defensive morphology in response to cues from predators. We know little about the heritability of inducible defensive characters or the range of phenotypes available for selection to act on in the field. Membranipora membranacea is a colonial marine bryozoan that produces spines within two days of exposure to waterborne predator extracts. Surveys done in 1993 and 1995 showed that the population at Friday Harbor Labs, Washington, was polymorphic for inducible spine type and was composed of a constitutively spined type that produced spines in the absence of a predator stimulus, an unspined phenotype that did not produce spines irrespective of a stimulus, and an inducibly spined phenotype that would produce spines if exposed to the appropriate cue. In 1995, the frequencies of these types were determined through a laboratory common-garden experiment; 178 colonies were cultured from metamorphosis through approximately 30 days and then exposed to the cue. The inducible type was the dominant, comprising 80.3% of the population. The constitutive type made up 6.2% of the population, and the remaining 13.4% was the unspined type. The frequency of the three types was similar to a preliminary trial of the experiment run in 1993. Experiments also showed that the lengths of the spines of the inducible type varied continuously among genotypes. To assess causes of variation in the inducible spine response and its clonal heritability, 16 clones were subdivided and grown in a common environment and exposed to a single dosage of spine inducing substance (SIS). Spine length showed high clonal heritability. The range of colony responses from a single environment varied from relatively unresponsive to highly responsive colonies with a very low threshold of response. Norms of reaction were quantified for spine lengths of inducible genotypes originating from two field environments by testing them in a concentration series of SIS. Both spine length and spine type varied with concentration of inducer. Within a clone, colonies were more likely to produce membranous spines than corner spines at higher concentrations. At low concentrations, only straight spines were produced. This study showed that populations of M. membranacea at Friday Harbor are a mix of inducible, nonspined and constitutively spined individuals. Even the inducible individuals showed high heritable variation in the length of spine activated, suggesting that there is considerable scope for the evolution of this character. A norm-of-reaction experiment further showed that the type of spine produced, membranous or corner, varied with the concentration of the cue. Factors maintaining the polymorphism and the broad range of genotypes could include high costs of defending the spined types coupled with a shifting biotic regime.

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