, Volume 97, Issue 2, pp 133–141 | Cite as

Convergent life-history shifts: toxic environments result in big babies in two clades of poeciliids

  • Rüdiger RieschEmail author
  • Martin Plath
  • Francisco J. García de León
  • Ingo Schlupp


The majority of studies on ecological speciation in animals have investigated the divergence caused by biotic factors like divergent food sources or predatory regimes. Here, we examined a system where ecological speciation can clearly be ascribed to abiotic environmental gradients of naturally occurring toxic hydrogen sulfide (H2S). In southern Mexico, two genera of livebearing fishes (Poeciliidae: Poecilia and Gambusia) thrive in various watercourses with different concentrations of H2S. Previous studies have revealed pronounced genetic differentiation between different locally adapted populations in one species (Poecilia mexicana), pointing towards incipient speciation. In the present study, we examined female reproductive life-history traits in two species pairs: Gambusia sexradiata (from a nonsulfidic and a sulfidic habitat) and Gambusia eurystoma (sulfide-endemic), as well as P. mexicana (nonsulfidic and sulfidic) and Poecilia sulphuraria (sulfide endemic). We found convergent divergence of life-history traits in response to sulfide; most prominently, extremophile poeciliids exhibit drastically increased offspring size coupled with reduced fecundity. Furthermore, within each genus, this trend increased with increasing sulfide concentrations and was most pronounced in the two endemic sulfur-adapted species. We discuss the adaptive significance of large offspring size in toxic environments and propose that divergent life-history evolution may promote further ecological divergence through isolation by adaptation.


Ecological speciation Divergent natural selection Extremophile fish Gambusia Hydrogen sulfide Offspring size Poecilia 



We thank M. and C.M. Tobler for their help in the field. L.D. Devenport, J.F. Kelly, R.B. Langerhans, E. Marsh-Matthews, L.J. Weider, and an anonymous reviewer helped to improve previous drafts of this manuscript with their valuable comments. R. Riesch thanks D. Reznick for his instruction on life-history sampling techniques. The Mexican Government (Permiso de Pesca de Fomento: DGOPA/16986/191205/8101, DGOPA/02232/230706/1079, DGOPA.06192.240608.-1562, and SGPA/DGVS/04751/08), as well as the Municipal of Tacotalpa (SM/1133/208), kindly provided permits for the work in Mexico. Financial support came from NSF (DEB-0813783 and DEB-0743406) and DFG (PL 470/1-2). This work represents partial fulfillment of the Ph.D. requirements for R. Riesch.

Supplementary material

114_2009_613_MOESM1_ESM.doc (74 kb)
Supplementary Table 1 Sample locations and sample dates. In the main manuscript, the two sites Arroyo Bonita and Río Amatan are pooled and analyzed together as Río Oxolotán sites. N = ratio of “pregnant females to total collected (and dissected) females” (DOCX 12 kb)
114_2009_613_MOESM2_ESM.doc (158 kb)
Supplementary Table 2 Univariate results from the MANCOVA on female life histories of four different species of poeciliids from two different genera and three levels of evolutionary exposure to toxicity. SL = standard length. All dependent variables and covariates were log-transformed (or arcsine-transformed if percentages) to accommodate for a potential nonlinear relationship between the variables. Only significant results are shown. Adjusted R 2 = 0.975 (DOCX 14 kb)
114_2009_613_MOESM3_ESM.doc (101 kb)
Supplementary Table 3 Structure matrix and test statistics for DFA on the life-history traits of female poeciliids based on differences in toxicity exposure and genus (DOCX 12 kb)
114_2009_613_MOESM4_ESM.doc (88 kb)
Supplementary Table 4 Structure matrices and test statistics for DFA on the life-history traits of female poeciliids from habitats with different levels of evolutionary exposure to toxicity (left) and toxic vs nontoxic habitats (right) (DOCX 12 kb)
114_2009_613_MOESM5_ESM.doc (59 kb)
Supplementary Table 5 Component matrix for the PCA on the life-history traits of female poeciliids from three different levels of evolutionary exposure to toxicity and two genera (DOCX 11 kb)
114_2009_613_MOESM6_ESM.doc (197 kb)
Supplementary Fig. 1 Group centroids ± SDs of DFAs of female life-history traits based on separation on toxicity exposure alone while controlling for female size (SL) and embryo stage. Nontoxic: (○) P. mexicana and G. sexradiata. Incipient toxic: (●) P. mexicana and G. sexradiata. (●) P. sulphuraria and G. eurystoma (DOCX 33 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rüdiger Riesch
    • 1
    Email author
  • Martin Plath
    • 2
  • Francisco J. García de León
    • 3
  • Ingo Schlupp
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Zoology, Graduate Program in Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of OklahomaNormanUSA
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and EvolutionGoethe-University FrankfurtFrankfurtGermany
  3. 3.Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas del NoroesteLa PazMexico
  4. 4.Department of ZoologyUniversity of OklahomaNormanUSA

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