Populations of Chlamydomonas founded by single cells were cultured in chemostats for 50 days, representing about 125 generations. The mean and variance of division rate was measured daily by withdrawing cells from the effluent and culturing them for 24 h on filtered effluent medium solidified with agar. Mean fitness did not change during the period of culture, and the behavior of neutral markers indicated that no substitutions of novel beneficial mutations occurred. However, the variance of fitness increased markedly at about the same rate in two replicate populations. The standardized rate, or mutational heritability, was Vm/VE = 4 ;ms 5 x 10;ms3 per generation. This is substantially greater than most other estimates for characters closely correlated with fitness. Moreover, it seems difficult to reconcile with the absence of any change in mean fitness. We investigated the possibility that frequency-dependent selection was created by spatial heterogeneity within the culture vessel by testing cell populations with different phenotypes from the top, bottom, and surface of the chemostats. However, the differentiation of these populations seemed to be attributable to phenotypic plasticity, with no evidence that their characteristics were heritable. Finally, we report an experiment in which lines were selected for about 100 generations on solid or liquid medium. These lines became specifically adapted to the medium on which they were cultured, showing that liquid and solid media, even when chemically identical, provide different conditions of growth for Chlamydomonas. The genetic variance appearing in the cultures was therefore attributed to conditionally neutral mutations that were not expressed in the chemostat. This implies that rates of accumulation of mutational variance measured in the culture environment itself (where this can be done) may greatly underestimate the variation available for a response through selection to environmental change. Moreover, it suggests that chemostat populations may be more dynamic and more diverse than is usually thought.
Corresponding Editor: C. Lively