To assess the potential production of hybrids and backcrosses in a semi-natural environment, we studied the combined effect of fish kairomone, and food level on the production of males and ephippial females in different clones of five Daphnia taxa from the D. galeata species complex. We also studied the diel vertical migration (DVM) of these sexual daphnids under the same varying conditions. This was done to test the hypothesis that males and ephippial females have different migrating strategies, which would increase their mating probability. The study was carried out in two large-scale indoor mesocosms, the so-called ‘plankton towers’ in the Max-Planck Institute in Plön, Germany. Although all of the Daphnia taxa produced ephippial females in the course of the experiment, only D. galeata produced a significant number of males. Fish kairomones had a significant negative influence on the production of ephippial females. We found no DVM in the D. galeata males. They stayed at a depth between 5 and 6 m both day and night, 1 or 2 m above the thermocline. The ephippial females of D. cucullata x hyalina migrated, whereas ephippial females of the other taxa showed no DVM but came significantly closer to the surface in the presence of fish kairomones. We conclude that males and sexual females co-occur in this species complex both in time and space. Therefore, a regular production of hybrids and backcrosses in this species complex seems likely. Fish kairomones do not seem to significantly influence this process.
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