Since our last video clip posting, many of the videos on our lab’s Youtube channel have gone viral. As of this blog post, the video of Inermia vitatta has actually accrued over 120,000 hits and also has been featured top top TV programs and newspaper articles around the globe. Not poor for a little fish!

Today’s video clip features the threespine stickleback, Gasterosteus aculeatus, feeding on a cladoceran (Daphnia pulex). If you have actually a brief attention expectancy like me, among the an initial things you’ll an alert from the video clip is exactly how shiny the fish is. The reflective armor bowl and big spines space a clue that this is a threespine stickleback from an anadromous population. Anadromous stickleback have actually a life history similar come a miniature salmon – they space born in freshwater, travel to the ocean, then go back to freshwater come breed. Unequal salmon, anadromous stickleback do not necessarily return to their home stream come breed. Anadromous stickleback additionally look very comparable to each various other – an Alaska anadromous fish watch very similar to a California anadromous fish.

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Sometimes, these anadromous stickleback will travel to a newly-formed lake or river, and also instead of return to the ocean, some fish will remain in freshwater, starting a brand-new population that freshwater stickleback. End time, this freshwater population will evolve to far better match its new freshwater habitat.

These anadromous and also freshwater populaces are among the reasons stickleback room such a good system for examining evolutionary biology. We have the right to study the an outcome of rapid evolution in the freshwater populations, and then turn around and study the anadromous fish that resemble the fish that established the freshwater population. Studying ancestral and obtained populations is one of the few ways – quick of a time device – that we deserve to learn the dynamics of adaptation in herbal populations.

If us study exactly how this anadromous stickleback captures prey, and also then study just how freshwater stickleback capture prey, we deserve to learn a lot around the procedure of adaptation. I’ve specialized much of my PhD work-related to studying this system, and also I’ll it is in talking much more about it in future posts.


This week, the Wainwright blog return to a subject of perennial interest, the threespine stickleback. I will comment on a recent paper from the Schluter lab in ~ UBC on shade plasticity and background corresponding in stickleback.

To set the stage, it’s crucial to realize that from a stickleback’s perspective, “bird” is a four-letter word. Predation through diving birds favor grebes and coots is commonplace in plenty of freshwater stickleback populations. Uneven predatory dragonfly larva, i m sorry detect food by vision and also by water movement, diving birds typically detect their prey by sight alone. In other words, if you’re a freshwater stickleback, it’s an extremely important that the height of her body blends in through your surroundings.


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This stickleback didn't get the memo. (http://www.lifeontheslea.co.uk )


In this paper, Jason Clarke and Dolph Schluter tried to assay elevator matching capability between limnetic and also benthic sticklebacks in Paxton Lake, brother Columbia. First, they used a spectrometer to record the background shade in the limnetic and also benthic habitats. The open-water limnetic habitat was a bluish color, yet the benthic habitat, i beg your pardon has an ext aquatic vegetation, tended to be more greenish. Additionally, the benthic habitat confirmed much an ext variation in shade than the limnetic habitat.

After checking the elevator color, the writer painted two sets of cups, one designed to look prefer the limnetic background, and also one designed come look choose the benthic background. Then they put benthic and limnetic sticklebacks on every background, let them adjust their color for 15 minutes, photographed every fish, climate measured just how well each fish matched its background. They likewise did the exact same experiment again, yet this time taking pictures every 20 seconds.

What did they find? Limnetic fish and benthic fish to be equally good at equivalent the blue limnetic background, but limnetic fish were not as good at equivalent the green benthic background together benthics were. The moment trial experiment helped to resolve what to be going on: benthics rapidly adjusted their colour to complement the background, however limnetics were doing something different. Limnetic fish were cycling through various colors instead of resolving a certain color. Limnetics were more variable in color when viewed with a benthic background, however even on their “home turf” in the limnetic background, castle still showed variation in color, yet to a lesser degree.

The authors imply that the trends of shade chance exhibited by benthics and also limnetics are more than likely adaptive. Your spectrometer data suggests that the benthic habitat is much more variable in color, and also their background experiments present that benthics are far better at rapidly changing their colour to match the background. The limnetic habitat, ~ above the other hand, is much an ext uniform, so there would certainly be tiny incentive because that limnetics come evolve rapid shade matching. However, limnetics may be adapting to their light setting in an entirely various way: the “flickering” displayed by limnetics could be an adaptation come fluctuating light intensity in open up water.

After reading this paper, I’m an especially curious what the color-matching ability of the ancestral marine sticklebacks room like. If castle resemble the limnetic, climate this shade matching capability will be one more interesting benthic stickleback adaptation. It will be cool to watch if that is feasible to discern the hereditary basis for this transition in plasticity.

Clark JM, Schluter D. Color plasticity and background equivalent in a threespine stickleback species pair. Organic Journal the the Linnean Society. DOI: 10.1111/j.1095-8312.2011.01623.x


Back in the at an early stage 80s, Don McPhail worked on sticklebacks in Vancouver Island, and specifically in some intriguing lakes that had not one but two different varieties of sticklebacks in them. Ten year later, McPhail and Schluter would build on this study and aid to catapult stickleback come the head of evolution biology.

But for now, let’s go earlier to the 80s and look at a little paper with huge implications.

The Enos Lake stickleback varieties pair consisted of a benthic types and a limnetic species, despite they room sadly no longer with us because of an invasive varieties introduction. Together is normally the instance with these types pairs, benthics room larger, with deep bodies and small short gill rakers, vice versa, limnetics are smaller sized with slim bodies and lots of lengthy filamentous gill rakers.

However, morphological distinctions do not necessarily interpret into ecological differences, for this reason the authors experiment the performance of the different varieties on its desired habitat. 3 experiments were performed: a prey size trial, a feeding psychological on benthic substrate, and a plankton feeding trial.

In the size trial, benthics ate considerably larger prey 보다 either limnetics or hybrids in between the two forms. In the feeding trial on the benthic substrate, limnetics and benthics made similar numbers the strikes, yet benthics were significantly an ext successful at capturing prey. In the zooplankton trial, the stomachs that limnetic stickleback consisted of a much higher number of prey items than than the stomachs of benthic stickleback.

The power data from these three experiments support the hypothesis that the Enos Lake stickleback pair does have ecological as well as morphological differentiation, though there space some interesting worries with limnetic stickleback in particular. When the authors allowed female limnetics to feeding on the benthic substrate, the sticklebacks did not, though masculine limnetics fed freely, and also made simply as numerous feeding strikes as benthics of both sexes.

A feasible reason could be the male limnetic stickleback have to spend time close to the benthos to build their nests, so it would make sense to eat benthic food items, whereas a female only has to approach the benthos to find a perfect male, and also can spend the remainder of she time in the water column eating zooplankton.

When Stickleblog returns, we’ll proceed our look right into the species pairs v a Schluter record that examines hybrid performance relative to limnetics and also benthics.


This week, I’m walk to comment on a cool file that come out that Dolph Schluter’s lab in 2008. The record zooms in ~ above a particularly interesting component of stickleback evolution, the shift between an ancestral marine type that each other in new water to a population that lives in freshwater year-round.

Usually, (and this is among the “color-coded for her convenience” things that make stickleback a terrific model system) girlfriend can gain a an excellent idea where a stickleback is indigenous by looking in ~ its armor plates. Stickleback from naval habitats often tend to have a full match of plates, conversely, sticklebacks from freshwater habitats will have couple of to no plates:

Stickleback armor key phenotypes: completely plated (top), partly plated(middle), short plated(bottom)

The writer sorted through thousands of marine stickleback to find fish that had actually intermediate number of plates, i m sorry signified that they to be heterozygotes for the gene that governs key number, Eda. This fish were placed in speculative ponds and enabled to breed. Due to the fact that the fish to be heterozygotes for Eda, they produced offspring v high, medium, and also low plates, which offered the writer a chance to watch if natural selection favored the low-plated form in freshwater.

In each pond, the frequency the the low allele enhanced over time, and in a similar way. There to be a slim dip as soon as fish were very young, yet then frequency enhanced until the fish reached reproduction condition. Interestingly, fish carrying the short allele flourished faster and also reached breeding condition sooner than fish transferring the high allele, probably due to the fact that building armor bowl takes energy that might be spent on growing more quickly.

The story is more complicated than that, despite – not only is over there a period early in life whereby the high allele shows up to it is in favored, but there is also a point where fish v intermediate plates have actually the greatest fitness, i beg your pardon is an overwhelming to explain. The authors raise the possibility that the Eda gene the controls key in stickleback may affect other characteristics (pleiotropy). One of two people way, that looks like even the most well-understood stickleback phenotype has more to phone call us.

Barrett, R., Rogers, S., & Schluter, D. (2008). Natural selection on a major Armor Gene in Threespine Stickleback Science, 322 (5899), 255-257 DOI: 10.1126/science.1159978


There are millions of sticklebacks across the globe, however you can also find sticklebacks in fossil form. The scientific name for most fossil sticklebacks is Gasterosteus doryssus, however morphologically this fossil “species” belongs in ~ the threespine stickleback complex.

One Miocene fossil site has available up some fascinating insights into the pace of development in threespine stickleback. This day I’ll be concentrating on a paper that examines advancement in diet type in this distinctive stickleback “population”.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned “limnetic” and “benthic” stickleback – two various morphs the freshwater stickleback the live in various places within a lake and eat various things. Limnetic stickleback usually swim in the open areas of the lake and feed ~ above zooplankton choose calanoid copepods. Benthic stickleback stay close come the lakebed and also feed top top insect larva and small crustaceans like gammarids and also ostracods.

In an earlier paper, it was shown that you have the right to identify even if it is a stickleback is benthic or limnetic simply from small scratches on the teeth. That method was used to fossil sticklebacks, v some highlight results: at different periods in time, the population changed from limnetic to benthic and earlier again to limnetic.

Most stickleback in this lake were limnetic, which provides a lot of sense – in order for the stickleback come be kept in anoxic sediment, the lake had to be fairly deep, which opens up up a many potential habitat because that limnetic stickleback. In addition, the substrate the sticklebacks are hidden in is called diatomaceous planet – basically, millions and millions the dead diatoms, a kind of phytoplankton. Numerous phytoplankton swimming about suggests there was zooplankton that ate them, i beg your pardon would provide a perfect source of food because that limnetic stickleback.

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Fossil sticklebacks (photo courtesy that Michael Bell)

So what around the point in time where the population changed indigenous limnetic come benthic? The authors imply that because of the speed of the adjust – and because over there are few sticklebacks from these rocks that room halfway in between benthic and also limnetic – it might be the situation that the limnetic sticklebacks went extinct and were changed by a brand-new population the invading benthic stickleback.

Still, also if us can’t speak for sure whether the limnetics were replaced by benthics or whether they advanced into benthics, we have the right to say the the benthic populace evolved into a limnetic populace over a few thousand years, since the pattern of this wear changes from the heavy markings common of a benthic to the lighter markings usual of a limnetic.

It’s rare that we have the right to use fossils come examine just how a specific population changes over time, but because we have the right to take our knowledge of modern-day stickleback and apply it to the fossils, we have the right to learn a lot about the dynamics of evolutionary change.

Purnell, M., Bell, M., Baines, D., Hart, P., & Travis, M. (2007). Associated Evolution and Dietary readjust in Fossil Stickleback Science, 317 (5846), 1887-1887 DOI: 10.1126/science.1147337


Some main ago, I disputed a large phylogenetic research that be separate sticklebacks native the seahorses and pipefishes – this day I’m going to comment on a phylogenetics file that zooms in ~ above the relationships between different sticklebacks(and their an extremely closest relatives).

Many that the same scientists native the previously stickleback phylogeny were involved in this paper, though over there is one brand-new face, Yale’s Tom Near, a longtime Wainwright lab collaborator and former CPB Postdoc.

The team sequenced the mitochondrial genomes of all nine sticklebacks and also stickleback relatives, and also they likewise sequenced 11 nuclear genes. They used both maximum-likelihood and also Bayesian techniques to calculation a phylogenetic tree that sticklebacks.

Here’s what they found:

The mitogenome and also nuclear gene data dovetail beautifully, as execute the maximum-likelihood and also Bayesian approaches for every dataset, for this reason there’s every reason to feel confidant about this arrangement of species.

There are a number of interesting results here: Aulorhynchidae, the household that includes the tubesnout, transforms out to it is in paraphyletic – probably the Aulorhynchidae need to be folded into the family Gasterosteidae and considered proper sticklebacks?

The thing I uncover the most exciting is the phylogenetic position of Spinachia spinachia, one elongated stickleback comparable in appearance to the tubesnout. The paper suggests that maybe Spinachia‘s elongate type is the an outcome of convergent evolution.

It’s also worth thinking around the geographical circulation of stickleback in the context of this phylogeny: Spinachia and Apeltes, two Atlantic Ocean-only species, space grouped together, if the most basal stickleback family members are all uncovered in the phibìc Pacific.

There room some exciting future directions possible here together well. Among Tom’s specialties is using fossil data to calibrate phylogenies, for this reason it’s most likely we’ll check out a phylogeny in the near future that gives us an idea that the timescales of major stickleback divergence events.

KAWAHARA, R., MIYA, M., MABUCHI, K., NEAR, T., & NISHIDA, M. (2009). Stickleback phylogenies resolved: proof from mitochondrial genomes and also 11 nuclear genes Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 50 (2), 401-404 DOI: 10.1016/j.ympev.2008.10.014


One that the most striking attributes of maritime stickleback is the heat of bony armor plates that run along the next of the body. These “armor plates” are actually enlarged and also ossified lateral heat scales, and also they’re a unique feature the threespine stickleback; other sticklebacks (and tubesnouts) just have a tiny row of lateral scales at the most.


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Freshwater stickleback populations will regularly have few to no armor plates, which has actually prompted biologist to look into the both the hereditary basis that armor loss and the effect of natural selection on key number.

In 1992, Canadian ecologist Tom Reimchen published a file in evolution that burned some light on the last question.

Tom recorded wild stickleback native a freshwater lake and then put them in one enclosure with among their chief lake predators, the cutthroat trout. Predictably, the trout would certainly bite the stickleback and try to eat it; at any time a bitten stickleback escaped or to be spit out, Tom captured it. The very first 153 fish were just preserved, and the last 143 fish were put in aquariums and also monitored for number of days to check out if your injuries to be fatal.

Then, Tom took a look at what sort of injuries all 296 stickleback had sustained native the trout attack. In particular, to be stickleback with much more armor plates injured less generally than stickleback through fewer plates? it turned the end that puncture wounds indigenous trout this were considerably less common in an ext armored stickleback.

Top graph: bowl number matches puncture wounds sustainedBottom graph: plate number matches survival

In the 2nd group the 143 fish that had actually been monitored for survival, over half of the fish died, numerous of who did not make it through the an initial 24 hours (for those wondering, Tom did have a manage tanks the non-injured fish in the very same room – they all survived). Fish with an ext plates survived substantially longer than fish through fewer plates; in addition, fish v injuries exhibited substantially lower survival.

Taken together, the results imply that having much more armor plates outcomes in fewer injuries sustained from predators, which boosts the fish’s chances of survival if that escapes being eaten.

There is one amazing caveat, though: every one of these fish would certainly still qualify together “low-plated” freshwater stickleback. Most of the key variation connected the existence of a couple of additional key closer come the head – go this average that fully-plated naval fish get the same sort that protective advantage from having actually armor closer to the tail?

Reimchen, T. (1992). Injuries on Stickleback from attacks by a Toothed Predator (Oncorhynchus) and also Implications because that the evolution of Lateral key Evolution, 46 (4) DOI: 10.2307/2409768


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(Image courtesy that Wikipeda)

In previous entries, I’ve made recommendation to the tubesnout(Aulorhynchus flavidus), one odd tiny creature that’s carefully related come the sticklebacks.

Tubesnouts space currently part of the family Aulorhynchidae, sister group to the Gasterosteidae(sticklebacks). Unlike the stickleback-sygnathiform relationship, the stickleback-tubesnout relationship is supported by molecular and morphological data, so it’s i can not qualify to change any time soon.

At a fast glance, a tubesnout looks prefer a tiny like a pipefish, but if girlfriend look closer, you’ll view that it in reality looks prefer a stickleback that’s been stretched out. Tubesnouts have the “iconic” stickleback features, though they’re not as obvious: rather of a couple of big dorsal spines, castle have many very small spines, and instead the “armor”(which is actually not that common on most sticklebacks) castle just have a little row of lateral line scales. Their pelvic girdle is no as durable as a threespine’s and also their pelvic spines are small and lack serrations, despite they do have actually red pelvic fin webbing favor a threespine stickleback.

The mating device of the tubesnout bears part similarity to the of various other sticklebacks, namely, males glue with each other vegetation to make tiny nests. Males likewise exhibit specific color patterns during the breeding season; the male tubesnouts that I’ve observed have a job of black beside a spot of white top top the head.

The most striking feature of the tubesnout is that elongated body and also head. Many teleosts exhibition elongation (anguilliformes gift the many notable), but few have elongation in both the body and the head. (though they carry out exist) possibly the most amazing thing about elongation and also the tubesnouts is the there is factor to think that elongation is genealogical in sticklebacks. Spinachia spinachia, the sea stickleback, is elongated – if phylogenetic analysis shows the it is the many basal stickleback species, the is feasible that the typical ancestor of the sticklebacks was elongated, and also that some sticklebacks developed a more classic fishy shape.


One the the distinguishing features of sticklebacks is that instead of having actually pelvic and also dorsal fins, they have actually serrated bony spines the the fish have the right to lock into place(more ~ above the locking in a later on entry).

Why would evolution an outcome in a lineage of fishes that has actually spines instead of fins? The standard explanation is that spines make sticklebacks a ache meal; predators will prevent eating sticklebacks if other food is available.

In 1956, Hoogland et al tested whether stickleback spines were an efficient defense versus larger fish. The record itself is 33 pages, v multiple experiment – for today’s entry, I’m walking to concentrate on only two that these.

In the an initial experiment, pike to be presented with 3 different types of fish: 12 threespine sticklebacks, 12 ninespine sticklebacks, and 12 carplike fish lacking spines. In ~ first, the pike went after sticklebacks, through decidedly ouch-inducing results:

After eat one stickleback of each type, the pike focused exclusively on the fish there is no spines, eating all 12 of them in 5 days. Once every one of these to be gone, sticklebacks started disappearing, however at a lot slower pace, with ninespine stickleback eaten faster 보다 threespines. It’s an overwhelming to break up anything as well comprehensively native this, together the authors didn’t do lot in the means of replication, however it does suggest that fish predators favor nonspined prey.

Then, the authors tried the apparent experiment – if threespine stickleback have spines the make it difficult for predators come eat them, what wake up if the spines space removed? when the spines were gotten rid of from a stickleback, predators stopped spitting lock out and treated them an in similar way to the carplike fish.

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Provided one is willing to overlook the paper’s archaic methodology and also lack the rigorous statistical methods(and the is indigenous the 1950s, remember), spines show up to diminish the deliciousness the stickleback.

Perhaps that’s why sticklebacks have actually never really taken off together a cuisine…

R. Hoogland, D. Morris and N. Tinbergen (1956). The Spines of Sticklebacks (Gasterosteus and Pygosteus) as method of Defence versus Predators (Perca and also Esox) Behaviour, 10 (3), 205-236 DOI: 10.2307/4532857