Adaptive maintenance of genetic polymorphism in an intertidal barnacle: habitat- and life-stage-specific survivorship of Mpi genotypes

Evolution. 2001 Jul;55(7):1336-44. doi: 10.1111/j.0014-3820.2001.tb00656.x.


In the northern acorn barnacle, Semibalanus balanoides, genotype frequencies of three genetic markers were tracked over time in four types of intertidal habitats. These habitats were selected to represent natural variation in several environmental parameters, specifically the degree of physical stress experienced by barnacles. Frequencies for one allozyme locus (Gpi) and a presumably neutral mtDNA marker were homogeneous among habitats in each temporal sample. Similarly, no temporal stratification in genotype frequencies was evident across the five sampling intervals: from planktonic larvae sampled in March to juveniles collected at the end of June. In contrast to the Gpi and mtDNA loci, Mpi genotypes significantly changed in frequency in two habitats in the high intertidal zone. On exposed substrate, the Mpi-FF homozygote increased in frequency, whereas the alternative homozygote, Mpi-SS, significantly decreased in frequency. Barnacles that were protected from environmental stress at high intertidal heights by the Ascophyllum nodosum algal canopy demonstrated the opposite pattern. In both habitats, the change in frequency of the heterozygote was intermediate to that of the homozygous genotypes. Furthermore, these patterns of genotype-by-environment association reflected a pulse of genotype-specific mortality that occurred over a two-week interval subsequent to metamorphosis from the larval to the adult form. These data indicate that each Mpi homozygote is the highest fitness genotype in some portion of the intertidal environment. Using the Levene (1953) model to evaluate the spatial variation in genotypic fitness, the stable maintenance of the Mpi polymorphism is predicted under certain subsets of conditions. Environmental heterogeneity in the intertidal zone translates to spatial variation in selection pressures, which may result in the active maintenance of the Mpi polymorphism in this species.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Environment*
  • Gene Frequency
  • Genes, Dominant
  • Genotype
  • Haplotypes
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Logistic Models
  • Models, Genetic
  • Odds Ratio
  • Polymorphism, Genetic / genetics*
  • Seasons
  • Species Specificity
  • Thoracica / genetics*
  • Thoracica / growth & development*
  • Water Movements*