Environmental salinity is important in defining Brachionus plicatilis sibling species distributions. However, while salinity influences distributions, sibling species often co-exist. Three different mechanisms potentially account for the partial co-occurrence of sibling species: (1) siblings have differing salinity tolerances that partially overlap; (2) siblings physiological tolerances may be commonly broad, but relatively small differences in tolerances differentiate distributions via interactions e.g. competition; or (3) siblings distributions may be influenced by physical factors other than salinity. Here, we assess the extent of salinity tolerance in three B. plicatilis sibling species (B. plicatilis 6TUR, B. plicatilis IOM and B.rotundiformis 6TOS) by measuring population growth rate (μ, day−1) and egg development time in response to salinity (5–60‰) and salinity fluctuations (≤ Δ40‰). Sibling species were identified by analysis of the mitochondrial COI gene, and salinity responses were compared by regression analysis. Responses differed significantly between siblings, although the broad trends were similar. Positive growth occurred at all salinities, and highest growth rates ranged between 0.93 and 1.08 day−1 at 16–18‰. Rapid changes in salinity reduced growth rates, but net mortality occurred only in one treatment (100% mortality on transfer from 10 to 40‰). Egg development time was largely invariant with salinity except for B. plicatilis IOM and where rotifers were transferred from 30 to 60‰. We indicate that several siblings are similarly euryhaline and tolerate salinity fluctuations. Undoubtedly, wide tolerances in B. plicatilis are adaptations to ephemeral and seasonally variable habitats. Given common broad salinity tolerances, it is unlikely that the differential distributions of sibling species are a direct result of physiological constraints. Instead, we illustrate using a simple model that subtle differences in physiological tolerances may have important impacts on interactions between sibling species, which may in turn influence distributions.
Salinity Tolerance Sibling Species Physiological Tolerance Salinity Fluctuation Ecophysiological Response
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This study forms part of a PhD thesis by C. D. Lowe at the University of Liverpool, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (Grant No. NER/S/A/2001/0630). Pierre Ferrer and Stephanie Swift provided valuable assistance with experimental work. Drs. I. Saccheri and P. Watts provided valuable discussion.
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