Evolutionary mechanisms underpinning fitness response to multiple stressors in Daphnia

Maria Cuenca‐cambronero, Jelena H. Pantel, Hollie Marshall, Tien T. T. Nguyen, Henar Tomero‐sanz, Luisa Orsini

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Multiple stressors linked to anthropogenic activities can influence how organisms adapt and evolve. So far, a consensus on how multiple stressors drive adaptive trajectories in natural populations has not been reached. Some meta-analysis reports show predominance of additive effects of stressors on ecological endpoints (e.g., fecundity, mortality), whereas others show synergistic effects more frequently. Moreover, it is unclear what mechanisms of adaptation underpin responses to complex environments. Here, we use populations of Daphnia magna resurrected from different times in the past to investigate mechanisms of adaptation to multiple stressors and to understand how historical exposure to environmental stress shapes adaptive responses of modern populations. Using common garden experiments on resurrected modern and historical populations, we investigate (1) whether exposure to one stress results in higher tolerance to a second stressor; (2) the mechanisms of adaptation underpinning long-term evolution to multistress (genetic evolution, plasticity, evolution of plasticity); and (3) the interaction effects of multiple stressors on fitness (synergism, antagonism, additivity). We measure the combined impact of different levels of resource availability (algae) and biocides on fitness-linked life-history traits and interpret these results in light of historical environmental exposures. We show that exposure to one stressor can alter tolerance to second stressors and that the interaction effect depends on the severity of either stressor. We also show that mechanisms of adaptation underpinning phenotypic evolution significantly differ in single-stress and multistress scenarios. These adaptive responses are driven largely by synergistic effects on fecundity and size at maturity, and additive effects on age at maturity. Exposure to multiple stressors shifts the trade-offs among fitness-linked life-history traits, with a stronger effect on Daphnia populations when low-resource availability and high biocide levels are experienced. Our study indicates that mitigation interventions based on single-stress analysis may not capture realistic threats.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2457-2469
JournalEvolutionary Applications
Issue number10
Early online date27 May 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 May 2021


  • additive
  • antagonistic
  • biocides
  • evolution
  • multistress
  • plasticity
  • resource availability
  • resurrection ecology
  • synergistic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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