Water-level fluctuations and metapopulation dynamics as drivers of genetic diversity in populations of three Tanganyikan cichlid fish species
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Molecular ecology. - Oxford
, p. 3933-3948
University of Antwerp
Understanding how genetic variation is generated and maintained in natural populations, and how this process unfolds in a changing environment, remains a central issue in biological research. In this work, we analysed patterns of genetic diversity from several populations of three cichlid species from Lake DNA control region. We sampled populations inhabiting the littoral rocky habitats in both very deep and very shallow areas of the lake. We hypothesized that the former would constitute relatively older, more stable and genetically more diverse populations, because they should have been less severely affected by the well-documented episodes of dramatic water-level fluctuations. In agreement with our predictions, populations of all three species sampled in very shallow shorelines showed traces of stronger population growth than populations of the same species inhabiting deep shorelines. However, contrary to our working hypothesis, we found a significant trend towards increased genetic diversity in the younger, demographically less stable populations inhabiting shallow areas, in comparison with the older and more stable populations inhabiting the deep shorelines. We interpret this finding as the result of the establishment of metapopulation dynamics in the former shorelines, by the frequent perturbation and reshuffling of individuals between populations due to the lake-level fluctuations.