Natural selection for grazer resistance to toxic cyanobacteria: Evolution of phenotypic plasticity?

N. G. Hairston, C. L. Holtmeier, W. Lampert, L. J. Weider, D. M. Post, J. M. Fischer, C. E. Cáceres, J. A. Fox, U. Gaedke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We studied the selection response of the freshwater grazing zooplankter, Daphnia galeata, to increased abundance of cyanobacteria in its environment. Cyanobacteria are a poor-quality and often toxic food. Distinct genotypes of D. galeata were hatched from diapausing eggs extracted from three time horizons in the sediments of Lake Constance, Europe, covering the period 1962 to 1997, a time of change in both the prevalence of planktonic cyanobacteria and levels of phosphorus pollution. We assessed whether the grazers evolved to become more resistant to dietary cyanobacteria by exposing genetically distinct clones to two diets, one composed only of the nutritious green alga, Scenedesmus obliquus (good food), and the other a mixture of S. obliquus and the toxic cyanobacterium Microcystis aeruginosa (poor food), Genotype performance was measured as the specific rate of weight gain from neonate to maturity (gj). We evaluated evolutionary change in the Daphnia population using an analysis of reaction norms based on relative (log-transformed) changes in gj. Log(gj) is a measure of the proportional effect of dietary cyanobacteria on other fitness components of the Daphnia phenotype. For comparison, we also analyze absolute (i.e., nontransformed) changes in gj and discuss the interpretations of the two approaches. Statistical results using a general linear model demonstrate a significant effect of genotype (showing differences in gj among genotypes), a significant genotype x food-type interaction (showing differences in phenotypic plasticity among genotypes), and, in the case of log-transformed data, a significant sediment-genotype-age x food-type interaction. The latter shows that phenotypic plasticity evolved over the period studied. Two constraints act on response to selection in the D. galeata - Lake Constance system. First, gj on a diet containing poor food is highly correlated with gj on a diet of good food, thus evolving resistance also meant evolving an increase in gj on both diets. Second, because genotypes with a high gj also grow to a large adult body size, which in turn increases Daphnia vulnerability to fish predation, we suggest that selection only acted to favor genotypes possessing a high potential gj after cyanobacteria became prevalent. The presence of cyanobacteria depressed realized gj and led to animals of small adult body size even if their genotypes had the potential for high gj and large size. With realized gj reduced, genotypes with an inherently high value could be selected even in the presence of predatory fish. The joint action of selection by dietary cyanobacteria and vulnerability to fish predation provides an explanation for the observed evolution of resistance to poor food through reduced phenotypic plasticity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2203-2214
Number of pages12
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2001


  • Daphnia
  • Developmental plasticity
  • Egg bank
  • Evolution of resistance
  • Genotype-by-environment interaction
  • Reaction norm
  • Selection response

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'Natural selection for grazer resistance to toxic cyanobacteria: Evolution of phenotypic plasticity?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this