Collectively, populations of Acanthocyclops vernalis, a species complex of freshwater copepods, are remarkably similar as to morphology and DNA content, despite variability in chromosome number. Reproductive isolation had been reported among some populations, but with each new investigation the species boundaries and factors that may influence them appeared less clear. To clarify the pattern of biological species within this group of populations, we adopted a comprehensive approach and examined patterns of reproductive isolation in populations for which morphology, chromosome number, DNA content, and 18S rDNA sequences are known. In this study we established nine isofemale lines from four sites in Wisconsin and performed 266 crosses. Crosses within and among these lines were used to relate the degree of reproductive isolation to chromosome differences and to construct a model to explain the origin and maintenance of chromosome number variability. Different gametic and somatic chromosome numbers were observed among specimens within some isofemale lines. In a few cases, gametes with different haploid numbers were produced by a single female. Matings within isofemale lines always produced at least some reproductively successful replicate crosses (produced viable, fertile offspring). Crosses between lines from the same site showed reduced success relative to within-line crosses. Crosses between populations from distant sites showed limited genetic compatibility, producing viable, fertile F1 offspring but infertile F2 adults. One cross between lines with different chromosome numbers (one with 2n = 8 and one with 2n = 10) produced fertile viable offspring, which reproduced for at least 60 generations. These hybrids had either eight or nine chromosomes in the third generation of inbreeding, and eight chromosomes after 20 generations. These hybrids also had reduced nuclear DNA contents at the third generation, a level that persisted through the 20th generation. Successful backcrosses between some hybrids and their parental lines further demonstrated the potential for genetic compatibility among forms with different chromosome numbers. We propose a model in which alterations due to Robertsonian fusions, translocations, and/or loss of chromosomal fragments generate heritable variation, only some of which leads to reproductive isolation. Hence, some of the criteria traditionally used to recognize species boundaries in animals (morphology, DNA content, chromosome number) may not apply to this species complex.
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Vol. 60 • No. 2