Population variation in density-dependent growth, mortality and their trade-off in a stream fish


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Abstract

Important variation in the shape and strength of density-dependent growth and mortality is observed across animal populations. Understanding this population variation is critical for predicting density-dependent relationships in natural populations, but comparisons amongst studies are challenging as studies differ in methodologies and in local environmental conditions.Consequently, it is unclear whether: (a) the shape and strength of density-dependent growth and mortality are population-specific; (b) the potential trade-off between density-dependent growth and mortality differs amongst populations; and (c) environmental characteristics can be related to population differences in density-dependent relationships.To elucidate these uncertainties, we manipulated the density (0.3–7 fish/) of young-of-the-year brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) simultaneously in three neighbouring populations in a field experiment in Newfoundland, Canada. Within each population, our experiment included both spatial (three sites per stream) and temporal (three consecutive summers) replication.We detected temporally consistent population variation in the shape of density-dependent growth (negative linear and negative logarithmic), but not for mortality (positive logarithmic). The strength of density-dependent growth across populations was reduced in sections with a high percentage of boulder substrate, whereas density-dependent mortality increased with increasing flow, water temperature and more acidic pH. Neighbouring populations exhibited different mortality-growth trade-offs: the ratio of mortality-to-growth increased linearly with increasing density at different rates across populations (up to 4-fold differences), but also increased with increasing temperature.Our results are some of the first to demonstrate temporally consistent, population-specific density-dependent relationships and trade-offs at small spatial scales that match the magnitude of interspecific variation observed across the globe. Furthermore, key environmental characteristics explain some of these differences in predictable ways. Such population differences merit further attention in models of density dependence and in science-based management of animal populations.This field experiment is the first to demonstrate temporally consistent, population-specific patterns of density-dependent growth, mortality and their trade-off at small spatial scales in salmonids. This variation in patterns matches the magnitude of interspecific variation observed across the globe and can be related to key environmental characteristics in predictable ways.

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