Rapid evolution of escape ability in Trinidadian guppies (Poecilia reticulata)

Evolution. 2002 Apr;56(4):776-84. doi: 10.1111/j.0014-3820.2002.tb01388.x.


Predators are widely assumed to create selection that shapes the evolution of prey escape abilities. However, this assumption is difficult to test directly due to the challenge of recording both predation and its evolutionary consequences in the wild. We examined these events by studying natural and experimental populations of Trinidadian guppies, Poecilia reticulata, which occur in distinct high-predation and low-predation environments within streams. Importantly, in the last two decades several populations of guppies have been experimentally introduced from one type of predatory environment into the other, allowing measurements of the consequences of change. We used this system to test two hypotheses: First, that changes in predatory environments create phenotypic selection favoring changes in escape ability of guppies, and second, that this selection can result in rapid evolution. For the first test we compared escape ability of wild caught guppies from high- versus low-predation environments by measuring survival rates during staged encounters with a major predator, the pike cichlid Crenicichla alta. We used guppies from three streams, comparing two within-stream pairs of natural populations and three within-stream pairs of an introduced population versus its natural source population. In every comparison, guppies from the high-predation population showed higher survival. These multiple, parallel divergences in guppy survival phenotype suggest that predatory environment does create selection of escape ability. We tested our second hypothesis by rearing guppies in common garden conditions in the laboratory, then repeating the earlier experiments using the F2 generation. As before, each comparison resulted in higher survival of guppies descended from the high-predation populations, demonstrating that population differences in escape ability have a genetic basis. These results also show that escape ability can evolve very rapidly in nature, that is, within 26-36 generations in the introduced populations. Interestingly, we found rapid evolutionary loss of escape ability in populations introduced into low-predation environments, suggesting that steep fitness trade-offs may influence the evolution of escape traits.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Escape Reaction*
  • Phenotype
  • Poecilia / genetics*
  • Poecilia / physiology
  • Trinidad and Tobago