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Patterns of selective predation change with ontogeny but not density in a marine fish

Caie, Phoebe, Shima, Jeffrey S.
Oecologia 2019 v.189 no.1 pp. 123-132
Forsterygion, developmental stages, larval development, life history, marine fish, mortality, ontogeny, otoliths, phenotypic variation, predation, predators
Phenotypic variation is prevalent in the early life-history stages of many organisms and provides the basis for selective mortality on size and growth-related traits of older life stages. Densities of organisms can vary widely at important life-history transitions, raising additional questions about the interplay between selection and density-dependent processes. We evaluate density dependence in patterns of selective mortality for a temperate reef fish. Specifically, we exposed pre-settlement and post-settlement stages of the common triplefin (Forsterygion lapillum) to a natural predator and evaluated patterns of selective mortality on early life-history traits as a function of ontogenetic stage and density. We used otoliths to reconstruct the traits of fish that survived versus fish that were consumed (i.e., we recovered otoliths from the guts of predators), and we estimated selection by analysing the relationship between absolute fitness and standardised traits. Absolute fitness was negatively correlated with size and larval growth rate for pre-settlement fish (i.e., larger and faster growing individuals were more likely to be consumed by predators), and this was consistent across the range of densities evaluated. Post-settlement fish experienced no selective mortality. Additionally, absolute fitness was equal across density treatments, suggesting mortality was density-independent. Collectively, these results suggest that patterns of selection change with ontogeny, but may be stable across densities when mortality is density-independent. Shifts in selective mortality for species with distinct life-stages can mask and complicate relationships between traits and fitness, and the importance of such traits may be underappreciated for earlier life stages.