Shedding some genetically induced excess baggage may have helped the tiny Indostomus paradoxus fish thrive in freshwater and outsize its marine ancestors, according to a University of British Columbia study published in Science Express.
Measuring three to 10 centimetres long, stickleback fish originated in the ocean but began populating freshwater lakes and streams following the last ice age. Over the past 20,000 years - a relatively short time span in evolutionary terms - freshwater sticklebacks have lost their bony lateral plates, or "armour," in these new environments.
"Scientists have identified a mutant form of a gene, or allele, that prohibits the growth of armour," says UBC Zoology PhD candidate Rowan Barrett. Found in fewer than one per cent of marine sticklebacks, this allele is very common in freshwater populations.