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Divergence in phenotypic traits is facilitated by a combination of natural selection, phenotypic plasticity, gene flow, and genetic drift, whereby the role of drift is expected to be particularly important in small and isolated populations. Separating the components of phenotypic divergence is notoriously difficult, particularly for multivariate phenotypes. Here, we assessed phenotypic divergence of threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) across 19 semi‐interconnected ponds within a small geographic region (~7.5 km2) using comparisons of multivariate phenotypic divergence (PST), neutral genetic (FST), and environmental (EST) variation. We found phenotypic divergence across the ponds in a suite of functionally relevant phenotypic traits, including feeding, defense, and swimming traits, and body shape (geometric morphometric). Comparisons of PSTs with FSTs suggest that phenotypic divergence is predominantly driven by neutral processes or stabilizing selection, whereas phenotypic divergence in defensive traits is in accordance with divergent selection. Comparisons of population pairwise PSTs with ESTs suggest that phenotypic divergence in swimming traits is correlated with prey availability, whereas there were no clear associations between phenotypic divergence and environmental difference in the other phenotypic groups. Overall, our results suggest that phenotypic divergence of these small populations at small geographic scales is largely driven by neutral processes (gene flow, drift), although environmental determinants (natural selection or phenotypic plasticity) may play a role.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8133-8145
JournalEcology and Evolution
Volume9
Issue number14
Early online date27 Jun 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019
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