Trophic polymorphism in a riverine fish: Morphological, dietary, and genetic analysis of mountain whitefish

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Trophic polymorphisms are a prominent form of phenotypic diversification in many animal taxa. Northern temperate lakes have become model systems for the investigation of sympatric speciation due to trophic polymorphisms. Many examples of niche-based phenotypic variation occur in temperate lakes, whereas northern rivers offer few such examples. To further investigate the conditions under which trophic polymorphisms are likely to evolve, the present study examined phenotypic variation related to snout size and shape in the mountain whitefish (Salmonidae: Prosopium williamsoni), which has been hypothesized to exhibit a rare example of reproductively isolated trophic morphs in a northern river-dwelling fish species. Variation in snout size and shape increased greatly with body size and, although this variation was continuously distributed, individuals in the largest size class tended to lie at phenotypic extremes. At one extreme were individuals with a large bulbous snout and a sloping forehead ('pinocchio'), and at the other were individuals that lack the bulbous snout and have a concave forehead ('normal'). The pinocchio trait may result from a stage-specific developmental switch that occurs late in ontogeny. Consistent differences were found with respect to diet between individuals with extreme snout morphologies, but no evidence was found for assortative mating within populations at seven microsatellite loci. The explosive mating system of this species may be responsible for this lack of assortative mating. The present study highlights the influence of ecological factors in shaping phenotypic and behavioural diversification due to trophic morphology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-267
Number of pages15
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2007


  • Coregonus
  • Gasterosteus
  • Microsatellite
  • Morphology
  • Prosopium
  • Resource polymorphism
  • Speciation
  • Stage-specific developmental switch
  • Sympatry


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