Calcium and salinity as selective factors in plate morph evolution of the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus)

J Evol Biol. 2012 Oct;25(10):1965-1974. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2012.02585.x. Epub 2012 Aug 3.


Identifying the causal factors underlying natural selection remains a key challenge in evolutionary biology. Although the genetic basis for the plate morph evolution of three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) is well described, the environmental variables that form the basis for different morphs are not understood. We measured the effects of dissolved calcium and salinity on the growth of sticklebacks with different plate morphs from Scotland and Poland. There was a significant interaction of calcium with plate morph for fish from both regions, with complete morph sticklebacks growing more slowly at low calcium concentrations and low morph sticklebacks showing divergent responses to calcium concentration. A Scottish anadromous population showed evidence of local adaptation to high salinity, which was independent of plate morph. Polish and Scottish populations diverged in their response to salinity, suggesting a difference in osmotic regulation. The results implicate a role for calcium in selecting for plate morph evolution in sticklebacks, possibly as a limiting element in skeletal growth.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Calcium / chemistry
  • Calcium / pharmacology*
  • Demography
  • Ecosystem
  • Poland
  • Salinity
  • Scotland
  • Selection, Genetic*
  • Smegmamorpha / genetics*
  • Smegmamorpha / growth & development
  • Smegmamorpha / physiology*
  • Water / chemistry*


  • Water
  • Calcium