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Published in: Evolutionary Ecology, Vol. 18, Issue 4, 2004


With few exceptions, the evolutionary consequences of harmful algae to grazers in aquatic systems remain unexplored. To examine both the ecological and evolutionary consequences of harmful algae on marine zooplankton, we used a two-fold approach. In the first approach, we examined the life history responses of two geographically separate Acartia hudsonica (Copepoda Calanoida) populations reared on diets containing the toxic dinoflagellate Alexandrium fundyense . One copepod population was from a region, Casco Bay, Maine, USA, that has experienced recurrent blooms of highly toxic Alexandrium spp. for decades; whereas the other population from Great Bay, New Jersey, USA, has never been exposed to toxic Alexandrium blooms. The life history experiment demonstrated that when the copepod population from New Jersey was reared on a diet containing toxic A. fundyense it exhibited lower somatic growth, size at maturity, egg production and survival than the same population reared on a diet without toxic A. fundyense . In contrast, toxic A. fundyense did not affect the life-history traits of the Maine population. Fitness, finite population growth rate (λ), was significantly reduced in the New Jersey population, but not in the Maine population. These results are consistent with the hypothesis of local adaptation (resistance) of the historically exposed copepod population to the toxic dinoflagellate. In the second approach, we further tested the resistance hypothesis with a laboratory genetic selection experiment with the naïve New Jersey copepod population exposed to a diet containing toxic A. fundyense. This experiment demonstrated that the ingestion and egg production of adult females of naïve copepods fed A. fundyense improved after three generations of being reared on a diet containing the toxic dinoflagellate. The results of the present study have important implications for understanding how grazer populations may respond to the introduction of toxic algae to their environment, and suggest that grazer resistance may be a feedback mechanism that may lead to bloom control.

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