Heritable pollution tolerance in a marine invader

Environ Res. 2011 Oct;111(7):926-32. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2010.12.007. Epub 2011 Feb 3.


The global spread of fouling invasive species is continuing despite the use of antifouling biocides. Furthermore, previous evidence suggests that non-indigenous species introduced via hull fouling may be capable of adapting to metal-polluted environments. Using a laboratory based toxicity assay, we investigated tolerance to copper in the non-indigenous bryozoan Watersipora subtorquata from four source populations. Individual colonies were collected from four sites within Port Hacking (Sydney, Australia) and their offspring exposed to a range of copper concentrations. This approach, using a full-sib, split-family design, tests for a genotype by environment (G×E) interaction. Settlement and complete metamorphosis (recruitment) were measured as ecologically relevant endpoints. Larval sizes were also measured for each colony. Successful recruitment was significantly reduced by the highest copper concentration of 80μgL(-1). While there was no difference in pollution tolerance between sites, there was a significant G×E interaction, with large variation in the response of colony offspring within sites. Larval size differed significantly both between sites and between colonies and was positively correlated with tolerance. The high level of variation in copper tolerance between colonies suggests that there is considerable potential within populations to adapt to elevated copper levels, as tolerance is a heritable trait. Also, colonies that produce large larvae are more tolerant to copper, suggesting that tolerance may be a direct consequence of larger size.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / genetics
  • Animals
  • Bryozoa / drug effects*
  • Bryozoa / genetics
  • Copper / toxicity*
  • Drug Resistance / genetics*
  • Introduced Species*
  • Larva / anatomy & histology
  • Larva / drug effects
  • Metamorphosis, Biological / drug effects
  • Metamorphosis, Biological / genetics
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity*


  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Copper