Life histories have a history: effects of past and present conditions on adult somatic growth rates in wild Trinidadian guppies


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1. Environmental conditions in the present, more recent past and during the juvenile stage can have significant effects on adult performance and population dynamics, but their relative importance and potential interactions remain unexplored.

2. We examined the influence of food availability at the time of sampling, 2 months prior and during the juvenile stage on adult somatic growth rates in wild Trinidadian guppies (Poecilia reticulata).

3. We found that food availability during both the early and later parts of an individual’s ontogeny had important consequences for adult growth strategies, but the direction of these effects differed among life stages and their magnitude, in some cases, depended on food levels experienced during other life stages. Current food levels and those 2 months prior to growth measurements had positive effects on adult growth rate; though, food levels 2 months prior had a greater effect on growth than current food levels. In contrast, the effects of food availability during the juvenile stage were higher in magnitude but opposite in direction to current food levels and those 2 months prior to growth rate measurements. Individuals recruiting under low food levels grew faster as adults than individuals recruiting during periods of high food availability. There was also a positive interaction between food levels experienced during the juvenile stage and 2 months prior such that the effects of juvenile food level diminished as the food level experienced 2 months prior increased.

4. These results suggest that the similar conditions occurring at different life stages can have different effects on short- and long-term growth strategies of individuals within a population. They also demonstrate that, while juvenile conditions can have lasting effects on adult performance, the strength of that effect can be dampened by environmental conditions experienced as an adult.

5. A simultaneous consideration of past events in both the adult and juvenile stage may therefore improve predictions for individual- and population-level responses to environmental change.