Tradeoffs between growth and reproduction in response to temporal variation in food supply

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Allocating resources to growth or to reproduction is a fundamental tradeoff in evolutionary life history theory. In environments with unpredictable food resources, natural selection is expected to favor increased allocation to reproduction. Although effects of selection are realized only across generations, short-term changes in food predictability might influence intra-generational tradeoffs in resource allocation. We assessed the ability of fathead minnows, Pimephales promelas, to adjust allocation to growth and reproduction in response to predictable, unpredictable, and switched feeding schedules. Fish in the switched treatments were changed from unpredictable to predictable feeding schedules just after reaching sexual maturity. Egg production did not differ significantly among treatments despite the fact that females on the unpredictable and switched feeding schedules grew more slowly than those on the predictable schedule. Switched males were heavier and had proportionally larger testes than males in predictable and unpredictable treatments. Increased allocation to reproduction or growth by fish on unpredictable and switched feeding schedules was associated with changes in gut length relative to body mass. Both sexes showed a remarkable degree of phenotypic plasticity in response to resource availability and sex differences in allocation patterns were consistent with adaptive responses in the context of the fathead mating system.

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