Royal Society Publishing

‘Ancient’ DNA in the resting egg bank of a microcrustacean can serve as a palaeolimnological database

Petra A. Limburg, Lawrence J. Weider


Recent work on the diapausing egg banks of zooplankton, such as Daphnia (Crustacea: Anomopoda), indicates that these eggs can remain viable for decades while, theoretically, DNA can remain intact for even longer periods (i.e. centuries or millennia). We isolated diapausing eggs of Daphnia from a 30 m long sediment core taken from a hypereutrophic, northern German lake (Belauer See), with some eggs found in dated core material as old as 4500 years. Using microsatellite markers, we analysed the genetic structure of the resting eggs dated as old as ca. 200 years, and found that, although levels of heterozygosity remained remarkably stable, significant genetic differentiation (Nei's D = 0.36; FST= 0.15) between recent and ‘ancient’ resting eggs (including allele frequency shifts and private alleles) was detected. These shifts represent either species–level changes in this complex (i.e. species–specific characters of ephippia are not always robust), or intraspecific shifts in genetic variation, or a combination of both. This study demonstrates that the egg banks of aquatic zooplankton can serve as repositories of both genetic (intrapopulational) and ecological (interspecific) information. The use of molecular markers, such as microsatellites, on diapausing egg/seed banks may open new avenues of enquiry related to tracking the long–term genetic (and/or species) shifts that are associated with long–term environmental changes.

Royal Society Login

Log in through your institution