Dietary niche and population dynamic feedbacks in a novel habitat

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Abstract

Population dynamics and resource use are often intricately connected via density-dependent intraspecific competition. However, experimental studies of concurrent change in population and resource use dynamics are scarce. In particular, the impact of factors such as genetic diversity, which can affect both population dynamics and competition, remains unexplored. Using stable isotope analysis and periodic population censuses, we quantified both diet and population dynamics in wheat-adapted Tribolium castaneum (flour beetle) populations provided with an additional novel resource (corn). Populations were initiated with different levels of genetic variation for traits relevant to population growth and resource use (e.g. fecundity and survival).We found that high population size decreased subsequent corn use, and high corn use in turn lowered population size. Surprisingly, we did not detect a significant effect of founding genetic variation on resource niche expansion, although genetic variation increased overall population size and stability. In contrast, dietary niche expansion decreased both population size and stability. Finally, larval and adult niche dynamics were uncorrelated, suggesting that various life stages perceive or respond differentially to intraspecific competition and resource availability. Our experiments indicate that population performance in a novel habitat depends on stage-specific interactions between resource use, standing genetic variation, and population size.

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