Experimental adaptation to marine conditions by a freshwater alga

Josianne Lachapelle, Graham Bell, Nick Colegrave

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The marine-freshwater boundary has been suggested as one of the most difficult to cross for organisms. Salt is a major ecological factor and provides an unequalled range of ecological opportunity because marine habitats are much more extensive than freshwater habitats, and because salt strongly affects the structure of microbial communities. We exposed experimental populations of the freshwater alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii to steadily increasing concentrations of salt. About 98% of the lines went extinct. The ones that survived now thrive in growth medium with 36 g{dot operator}L-1 NaCl, and in seawater. Our results indicate that adaptation to marine conditions proceeded first through genetic assimilation of an inducible response to relatively low salt concentrations that was present in the ancestors, and subsequently by the evolution of an enhanced inducible response to high salt concentrations. These changes appear to have evolved through reversible and irreversible modifications, respectively. The evolution of marine from freshwater lineages is an example that clearly indicates the possibility of studying certain aspects of major ecological transitions in the laboratory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2662-2675
Number of pages14
JournalEvolution: International Journal of Organic Evolution
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2015

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Chlamydomonas
  • constitutive and inducible response
  • evolutionary rescue
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • recombination
  • salt tolerance


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