Extensive behavioural divergence following colonisation of the freshwater environment in threespine sticklebacks

PLoS One. 2014 Jun 10;9(6):e98980. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0098980. eCollection 2014.


Colonisation of novel environments means facing new ecological challenges often resulting in the evolution of striking divergence in phenotypes. However, little is known about behavioural divergence following colonisation, despite the predicted importance of the role of behavioural phenotype-environment associations in adaptive divergence. We studied the threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus), a model system for postglacial colonisation of freshwater habitats largely differing in ecological conditions from the ones faced by the descendants of the marine ancestor. We found that common-environment reared freshwater juveniles were less social, more active and more aggressive than their marine counterparts. This behavioural divergence could represent the result of natural selection that acted on individuals following freshwater colonisation, with predation as a key selection agent. Alternatively, the behavioural profile of freshwater juveniles could represent the characteristics of individuals that preferentially invaded freshwater after the glacial retreat, drawn from the standing variation present in the marine population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Fresh Water*
  • Linear Models
  • Smegmamorpha / growth & development*
  • Smegmamorpha / physiology*

Grant support

Funding was provided to C. Di-Poi by the Government of Canada Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship, to N. Aubin-Horth and S. Rogers through Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery grants and an Alberta Innovates Technology Futures New Faculty Award to S. Rogers. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.