The Magadi tilapia (Alcolapia grahami, formerly Oreochromis alcalicus grahami) is a remarkable example of teleost life in an extreme environment. Typical conditions include water, pH=10, titration alkalinity >300 mM, osmolality=525 mOsm, temperatures ranging from 23degrees to 42degreesC, and O-2 levels fluctuating diurnally between extreme hyperoxia and anoxia. A number of relatively small tilapia populations are present in various thermal spring lagoons around the margin of the lake separated by kilometers of solid trona crust (floating Na2CO3) underlain by anoxic water. Despite the apparent isolation of different populations, annual floods may provide opportunities for exchange of fish across the surface of the trona and subsequent gene flow. To assess the question of isolation among Lake Magadi populations, we analyzed the variable control region of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from six lagoons. A total of seven mtDNA haplotypes, including three common haplotypes, were observed in all six populations. Several of the Lake Magadi populations showed haplotype frequencies indicative of differentiation, while others showed very little. However, differentiation among lagoon populations was discordant with their geographical distribution along the shoreline. All populations exhibited the unusual trait of 100% ureotelism but specialized morphological and physiological characteristics were observed among several of the lagoon systems. In addition, distinct differences were observed in the osmolality among the lagoons with levels as high as 1,400-1,700 mOsm kg(-1), with corresponding differences in the natural levels of whole-body urea. These levels of osmotic pressure proved fatal to fish from less alkaline systems but remarkably were also fatal to the fish that inhabited lagoons with this water chemistry. Upon more detailed inspection, specific adaptations to differential conditions in the lagoon habitat were identified that allowed survival of these cichlids. Additional evidence against potential for gene flow among lagoons despite the sharing of common mtDNA haplotypes was that the osmolality of floodwaters following a heavy rain showed lethal levels exceeding 1,700 mOsm kg(-1). In isolation, different mtDNA haplotypes would be predicted to go to fixation in different populations due to rapid generation times and the small effective population sizes in a number of lagoons. We propose a model of balancing selection to maintain common mtDNA sequences through a common selection pressure among lagoons that is based on microhabitats utilized by the tilapia.
Physiological and Biochemical Zoology
The original publication is available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/422054