The process of ecological speciation drives the evolution of locally adapted and reproductively isolated populations in response to divergent natural selection. In Southern Mexico, several lineages of the freshwater fish species of the genus Poecilia have independently colonized toxic, hydrogen sulfide-rich springs. Even though ecological speciation processes are increasingly well understood in this system, aligning the taxonomy of these fish with evolutionary processes has lagged behind. While some sulfide spring populations are classified as ecotypes of Poecilia mexicana, others, like P. sulphuraria, have been described as highly endemic species. Our study particularly focused on elucidating the taxonomy of the long described sulfide spring endemic, Poecilia thermalis Steindachner 1863, and investigates if similar evolutionary patterns of phenotypic trait divergence and reproductive isolation are present as observed in other sulfidic species of Poecilia. We applied a geometric morphometric approach to assess body shape similarity to other sulfidic and non-sulfidic fish of the genus Poecilia. We also conducted phylogenetic and population genetic analyses to establish the phylogenetic relationships of P. thermalis and used a population genetic approach to determine levels of gene flow among Poecilia from sulfidic and non-sulfidic sites. Our results indicate that P. thermalis' body shape has evolved in convergence with other sulfide spring populations in the genus. Phylogenetic analyses placed P. thermalis as most closely related to one population of P. sulphuraria, and population genetic analyses demonstrated that P. thermalis is genetically isolated from both P. mexicana ecotypes and P. sulphuraria. Based on these findings, we make taxonomic recommendations for P. thermalis. Overall, our study verifies the role of hydrogen sulfide as a main factor shaping convergent, phenotypic evolution and the emergence of reproductive isolation between Poecilia populations residing in adjacent sulfidic and non-sulfidic environments.
by Maura Palacios, Lenin Arias-Rodriguez, Martin Plath, Constanze Eifert, Hannes Lerp, Anton Lamboj, Gary Voelker, Michael Tobler