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Quantitative genetics of phosphorus content in the freshwater herbivore, Daphnia pulicaria


Sherman, Ryan et al. (2020), Quantitative genetics of phosphorus content in the freshwater herbivore, Daphnia pulicaria, Dryad, Dataset,


1. Phosphorus (P) is essential for growth of all organisms, and P content is correlated with growth in most taxa. Although P content was initially considered to be a trait fixed at the species level, there is growing evidence for considerable intraspecific variation. Selection on such variation can thus alter the rates at which P fluxes through food webs.

2. Nevertheless, prior work describing the sources and extent of intraspecific variation in P content were not genetically explicit, confounded by unknown genetic background and evolutionary history. We constructed an F2 recombinant population of the dominant freshwater grazer, Daphnia pulicaria to mitigate such issues.

3. F2 recombinants exhibited considerable variation in growth rate, P content (0.49% to 1.97%), P use efficiency (PUE; 51 to 208 mg biomass/mg P), and correlated traits such as hatching time of resting eggs, in common garden conditions.

4. These results clearly demonstrate the scope of genetic recombination in generating variation in ecologically-relevant traits. The absence of environmental selection is a likely component driving such variation not observed in natural settings.

5. Although phosphoglucose isomerase (PGI) genotype was significantly associated with variation in hatching time of resting eggs, contrary to prior work with less rigorous designs, allelic variation at the PGI locus did not explain variation in P content and PUE of Daphnia, indicating that such quantitative traits are under polygenic control.

6. Together, these results suggest that although there is considerable genetic scope for variation in key ecologically-relevant traits, such as P content and efficiency of P use, these traits are likely under strong stabilizing selection, most likely due to selection on growth rate and size. Importantly, our observations suggest that anthropogenic alterations to P supply due to eutrophication could alter selection on these traits, thereby rapidly altering the role Daphnia plays in the P cycle of lakes.