Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 10, Issue 6, pp 631–652

Genetic variation and phenotypic plasticity in a trophically polymorphic population of pumpkinseed sunfish (Lepomis gibbosus)

  • Beren W. Robinson
  • David Sloan Wilson

DOI: 10.1007/BF01237711

Cite this article as:
Robinson, B.W. & Wilson, D.S. Evol Ecol (1996) 10: 631. doi:10.1007/BF01237711


Adaptive variation can exist at a variety of scales in biological systems, including among species, among local populations of a single species and among individuals within a single population. Trophic or resource polymorphisms in fishes are a good example of the lowest level of this hierarchy. In lakes without bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus), pumpkinseed sunfish (Lepomis gibbosus) can be trophically polymorphic, including a planktivorous limnetic form found in the pelagic habitat, in addition to the usual benthic form found in the littoral zone. In this paper we examine the degree to which morphological differences between the two forms are caused by genetic differences versus phenotypic plasticity. Adults from pelagic and littoral sites in Paradox Lake, NY, were bred separately and their progeny were raised in cages both in the open water and shallow water habitats of an artificial pond. The experimental design permitted two tests of genetic differences between the breeding stocks (in open and shallow water cages, respectively) and two tests of phenotypic plasticity (in the limnetic and benthic offspring, respectively). Limnetic progeny were more fusiform than benthic progeny raised in the same habitat. In addition, progeny of both stocks displayed limnetic-type characteristics when raised in the open water and benthic-type characteristics in the shallow water. Thus, genetic differences and phenotypic plasticity both contributed to the trophic polymorphism. Phenotypic plasticity and genetic differentiation accounted for 53 and 14%, respectively, of the variation in morphology. This study addresses the nature of subtle phenotypic differences among individuals from a single population that is embedded within a complex community, a condition that is likely to be the norm for most natural populations, as opposed to very large differences that have evolved in relatively few populations that reside in species-poor environments.


common environmentreciprocal transplantgenetic differentiationphenotypic plasticitytrophic polymorphismevolutionspecializationfish

Copyright information

© Chapman & Hall 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Beren W. Robinson
    • 1
  • David Sloan Wilson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesBinghamton UniversityBinghamtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of ZoologyUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada