Anthropogenic change drives non-parallel sexual signal divergence among three species of Bahamian mosquitofish
When confronted with similar environmental challenges, different organisms can exhibit dissimilar phenotypic responses. Therefore, understanding patterns of phenotypic divergence for closely related species requires considering distinct evolutionary histories. Here, we investigated how a common form of human-induced environmental alteration, habitat fragmentation, may drive phenotypic divergence among three species of Bahamian mosquitofish (Gambusia spp.). Focusing on one phenotypic trait (male coloration), having a priori predictions of divergence, we tested whether populations persisting in fragmented habitats differed from those inhabiting unfragmented habitats, and examined the consistency of the pattern across species.
Species exhibited both shared and unique patterns of phenotypic divergence between the two types of habitats, with shared patterns representing the stronger effect. For all species, populations in fragmented habitats had fewer dorsal-fin spots. In contrast, the magnitude and trajectory of divergence in dorsal-fin color, a sexually selected trait, differed among species. We identified fragmentation-mediated turbidity increases as a likely driver of these trait shifts. These results suggest that even closely related species can exhibit diverse phenotypic responses when encountering similar human-mediated selection regimes. This element of unpredictability complicates forecasting the phenotypic responses of wild organisms faced with anthropogenic change - an important component of biological conservation and ecosystem management.