Indexed on: 06 Sep '01Published on: 06 Sep '01Published in: BioEssays
Comparisons between related species often allow the detailed genetic analysis of evolutionary processes. Here we advocate the use of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (and several other rhabditid species) as model systems for microevolutionary studies. Compared to Drosophila species, which have been a mainstay of such studies, C. elegans has a self-fertilizing mode of reproduction, a shorter life cycle and a convenient cell-level analysis of phenotypic variation. Data concerning its population genetics and ecology are still scarce, however. We review molecular, behavioral and developmental intraspecific polymorphisms for populations of C. elegans, Oscheius sp. 1 and Pristionchus pacificus. Focusing on vulval development, which has been well characterized in several species, we discuss relationships between patterns of variations: (1) for a given genotype (developmental variants), (2) after mutagenesis (mutability), (3) in different populations of the same species (polymorphisms) and (4) between closely related species. These studies have revealed that evolutionary variations between sister species affect those characters that show phenotypic developmental variants, that are mutable and that are polymorphic within species.