Reproduction of Daphnia pulex in a Northern Italy pond
This paper reports on the occurrence of Daphnia pulex in a small fishless water body of Northern Italy (Bodrio del pastore III) and describes its population dynamics. Bodrio is a typical water body originated by erosion from the old Po river-bed surface. During a three year study (2011-2013), D. pulex population showed an increase in density from spring to early summer, it declined in July-August and did not recover, presumably from ephippia, until the following spring. The seasonal dynamics was related to the species thermal tolerance and to invertebrate predation by Chaoborus that resulted in juvenile high mortality and in adaptive predator-avoidance cyclomorphosis. Seasonal variation was observed in the frequency of individuals, most juveniles, showing neckteeth. D. pulex population reproduces by cyclical parthenogenesis and showed a very early investment in sexual reproduction, independent of population density. Males and ephippial females appeared at the beginning of growth season before the density peak according to a typical feature of Daphnia populations from temporary habitats. This suggests a lower influence of the environmental factors on sex determination compared to populations inhabiting more permanent habitats. Lineages that produce males and ephippial females early in the season had lower growth rate than parthenogenetic ones but may preserve from selection pressure by predators a significant percentage of genetic variation linked to sex allocation so that evolution proceeds toward earlier and increased sexual reproduction. Our results suggest further investigation to verify whether the current population is the last remnant of a once much larger metapopulation eventually reduced by anthropogenic disturbances or if it represents the invasion of North American strains.
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