Diversification is commonly understood to be the divergence of phenotypes accompanying that of lineages. In contrast, alternative phenotypes arising from a single genotype are almost exclusively limited to dimorphism in nature. We report a remarkable case of macroevolutionary-scale diversification without genetic divergence. Upon colonizing the island-like microecosystem of individual figs, symbiotic nematodes of the genus Pristionchus accumulated a polyphenism with up to five discrete adult morphotypes per species. By integrating laboratory and field experiments with extensive genotyping of individuals, including the analysis of 49 genomes from a single species, we show that rapid filling of potential ecological niches is possible without diversifying selection on genotypes. This uncoupling of morphological diversification and speciation in fig-associated nematodes has resulted from a remarkable expansion of discontinuous developmental plasticity.
Keywords: Developmental plasticity; Pristionchus; adaptive radiation; diversification; figs; genetic isolation; nematodes; predation.