Rapid evolution in threespine sticklebacks


This video from the USA is about fossil sticklebacks and evolution.

From the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in the USA:

Researchers document rapid, dramatic ‘reverse evolution’ in the threespine stickleback fish

Adaptation coincides with the ’60s cleanup of toxic pollution in Seattle’s Lake Washington

SEATTLE – Evolution is supposed to inch forward over eons, but sometimes, at least in the case of a little fish called the threespine stickleback, the process can go in relative warp-speed reverse, according to a study led by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and published online ahead of print in the May 20 issue of Current Biology (Cell Press).

“There are not many documented examples of reverse evolution in nature,” said senior author Catherine “Katie” Peichel, Ph.D., “but perhaps that’s just because people haven’t really looked.”

Peichel and colleagues turned their gaze to the sticklebacks that live in Lake Washington, the largest of three major lakes in the Seattle area. Five decades ago, the lake was, quite literally, a cesspool, murky with an overgrowth of blue-green algae that thrived on the 20 million gallons of phosphorus-rich sewage pumped into its waters each day. Thanks to a $140 million cleanup effort in the mid-‘60s – at the time considered the most costly pollution-control effort in the nation – today the lake and its waterfront are a pristine playground for boaters and billionaires.

It’s precisely that cleanup effort that sparked the reverse evolution, Peichel and colleagues surmise. Back when the lake was polluted, the transparency of its water was low, affording a range of vision only about 30 inches deep. The tainted, mucky water provided the sticklebacks with an opaque blanket of security against predators such as cutthroat trout, and so the fish needed little bony armor to keep them from being eaten by the trout.

In 1968, after the cleanup was complete, the lake’s transparency reached a depth of 10 feet. Today, the water’s clarity approaches 25 feet. Lacking the cover of darkness they once enjoyed, over the past 40 years about half of Lake Washington sticklebacks have evolved to become fully armored, with bony plates protecting their bodies from head to tail. For example, in the late ‘60s, only 6 percent of sticklebacks in Lake Washington were completely plated. Today, 49 percent are fully plated and 35 percent are partially plated, with about half of their bodies shielded in bony armor. This rapid, dramatic adaptation is actually an example of evolution in reverse, because the normal evolutionary tendency for freshwater sticklebacks runs toward less armor plating, not more.

“We propose that the most likely cause of this reverse evolution in the sticklebacks is from the higher levels of trout predation after the sudden increase in water transparency,” said Peichel, whose Hutchinson Center lab has established the stickleback as a new model for studying complex genetic traits.

Stickleback genomes shining bright light on evolution: here.

Heritable Differences in Schooling Behavior among Threespine Stickleback Populations Revealed by a Novel Assay: here.

Stickleback fish show initiative, personality and leadership: here.

A common species of fish which is found across Europe including the UK, called the nine-spined stickleback, could be the first animal shown to exhibit an important human social learning strategy: here. And here.

For Tank Fish Two Is Not Enough Company: here.

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2 thoughts on “Rapid evolution in threespine sticklebacks

  1. Pingback: Dutch fish ladder for sticklebacks | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Sea fish in Dutch IJsselmeer lake | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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