Phenotypic plasticity and predator effects on morphology and physiology of crucian carp in nature and in the laboratory

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Abstract

Crucian carp Carassius carassius show great phenotypic plasticity in individual morphology and physiology, and strong variation in population density in different fish communities. Small fish with shallow bodies and large heads are typical in overcrowded monospecific fish communities in small ponds, whereas deep-bodied, large fish are found in larger, multispecies lakes. Crucian carp are especially vulnerable to predation by piscivorous fish and their greater relative body depth in multispecies fish communities has been proposed to be an induced defence against size-limited predation, and hence to be an adaptive feature. Data are presented here on the two divergent body forms in field populations in eastern Finland, together with results of laboratory experiments on predator effects on morphology and physiology (growth, respiration, heart rate). The deep body can be achieved in a few months by introducing a low population density of shallow-bodied fish into a food-rich environment with no piscivores. In the laboratory, both the presence of piscivores (chemical cues) and enhanced food availability increased the relative depth of crucian carp, but only to a modest extent when compared to natural variation. It is concluded that the deep-body form of crucian carp in the low density populations of multispecies fish communities is the normal condition. Reproduction in monospecific ponds results in high intraspecific competition, low growth rate and a stunted morphology. According to pilot tests, the mechanism behind the predator effect in the laboratory might be a behavioural reaction to chemical cues (alarm substances/predator odour) causing changes in energy allocation: predator-exposed crucian carp adopt a ‘hiding’ mode with decreased activity (less swimming, lower respiration and heart rate) and with higher overall growth. Whether, and to what extent, this predator-induced mechanism works in nature is unclear.

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