• adaptive radiation;
  • Cottus asper;
  • mesocosm experiment;
  • natural enemies;
  • natural selection;
  • predation;
  • sculpin;
  • selection differential

Predation can promote divergence between prey populations and contribute to ecological speciation. In theory, predators can also constrain prey population divergence. In coastal British Columbia, Canada, Gasterosteus aculeatus (three-spined stickleback) species pairs only occur in lakes with a single species of predatory fish: Oncorhynchus clarkii (the cutthroat trout). Similar lakes containing additional predatory fish species (Cottus asper, prickly sculpins; Oncorhynchus mykiss, rainbow trout) contain only single species of morphologically intermediate stickleback, suggesting that these predators prevent the coexistence of stickleback species pairs. We conducted a mesocosm experiment to investigate how prickly sculpins might constrain divergence, by quantifying their impact on survival and natural selection on antipredator (armour) traits in F2 stickleback from a cross between ecologically divergent populations. We tested three hypotheses: (1) sculpin predation on sticklebacks reduces survival in a way that could result in their exclusion from certain niches; (2) sculpins compete with stickleback; (3) sculpins respond to prey vulnerabilities in similar ways to cutthroat trout, tending to constrain rather than to enhance divergence. We found that sculpins significantly reduce stickleback survival, that their presence per se does not reduce growth in stickleback, and that predation did not result in selection on any of the armour traits measured, or on gill raker length, which is an important trophic trait. These results tend to refute hypotheses (2) and (3), while supporting hypothesis (1). © 2011 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2011, 104, 877–885.