Background matching and color-change plasticity in colonizing freshwater sculpin populations following rapid deglaciation

Andrew R. Whiteley, Scott M. Gende, Anthony J. Gharrett, David A. Tallmon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Anthropogenic-induced change is forcing organisms to shift their distributions and colonize novel habitats at an increasing rate, which leads to complex interactions among evolutionary processes. Coastrange sculpin (Cottus aleuticus) have colonized recently deglaciated streams of Glacier Bay in Alaska within the last 220 years. We examined divergence among populations in background matching coloration and tested the hypothesis that observed variation is due to morphological color plasticity. To examine how color-change plasticity has interacted with other evolutionary processes, we also determined the influence of colonization on neutral genetic diversity. We observed clinal variation in substrate-matching fish color along the chronological continuum of streams. Microsatellites provided little evidence of genetic subdivision among sculpin populations. Fish color was significantly correlated to substrate color, but was not correlated to neutral population genetic structure. Furthermore, a laboratory experiment revealed that morphological color plasticity could explain much, but not all, of the observed fish color divergence. Our study demonstrates that sculpin in Glacier Bay have colonized and adapted to recently deglaciated habitat and suggests that color change plasticity has aided in this process. This research, therefore, highlights the important role phenotypic plasticity may play in the adaptation of species to rapid climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1519-1529
Number of pages11
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2009


  • Adaptation
  • Climate change
  • Colonization
  • Gene flow
  • Glacial recession
  • Phenotypic plasticity


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