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Fitness consequences of the timing of metamorphosis in a freshwater crustacean


  • Saran Twombly,

  • Nancy Tisch

S. Twombly, Dept of Biological Sciences, Univ. of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI 02881, USA ( – N. Tisch, Biometrics Dept, Cornell Univ., Ithaca, NY 14853-7801, USA.


Metamorphosis is a common life-cycle transition in organisms as diverse as amphibians, insects, fishes and crustaceans, and the timing of this transition often affects an individual's fitness. Here, we measured age and size at metamorphosis in laboratory-reared individuals of the freshwater copepod, Diaptomus leptopus, and then followed individuals over their entire life cycle to assess the fitness consequences of variation in age and size at metamorphosis. In 3 separate experiments, individuals were raised in different food conditions: low food (0.2 μg C/ml) switched to high food (0.7 μg C/ml), or high food switched to low food, at several different larval and juvenile stages. Control individuals were reared on high or low food concentrations over their entire life cycles. For each individual, we measured age and size at metamorphosis and age and size at maturity; for females, we also measured total lifetime egg production, longevity, and calculated a composite fitness measure, λ. Statistical analyses showed no significant effects of age or size at metamorphosis on these same traits measured at maturity, or on the fitness components we estimated. The first individuals to mature had the highest total egg production and individual fitness; differences in body size at maturation explained none of the variation observed in fitness components. Our results show that metamorphosis was uncoupled from maturity and from fitness components by growth and development achieved during the juvenile phase of the life cycle, and support the conclusion that fitness consequences of metamorphosis depend fundamentally on the organization of an organism's life cycle. They also suggest that body size plays a different life-history role in these organisms than is recognized in most poikilotherms, and suggest the hypothesis, based on laboratory experiments, that selection may act primarily on juvenile developmental rates in field populations.