Aims To test the magnitude and direction of the effects of large-scale environmental factors (latitude and habitat type: lotic or lentic) on the intraspecific variations in multiple life-history traits, across multiple European freshwater fish species. To test the relevance of defining species traits by quantifying the magnitude of interspecific vs. intraspecific variability in traits.
Methods We obtained estimates of 11 fish traits from published sources for 1089 populations of 25 European freshwater fish species. Traits were: longevity, maximal length, growth rate, asymptotic length, mortality rate, age and length at maturation, fecundity, egg size, gonadosomatic index, and length of breeding season. We described population habitats by latitude and habitat type (lotic or lentic), when available. For each species we tested the combined effect of latitude and habitat type on the intraspecific variation of each trait using analysis of covariance (ancova). We compared the intraspecific variation in traits with the variation between species using an analysis of variance (anova) for each trait, all species pooled.
Results We found a consistent effect in direction of latitude on six traits, but we showed that this effect is not always significant across species. Higher-latitude populations often grew more slowly, matured later, had a longer life span and a higher maximal and asymptotic length, and allocated more energy to reproduction than populations at lower latitudes. By contrast, we noted only a slight effect of habitat type on the intraspecific variation in traits, except for Salmo trutta. All traits varied significantly between species. However, traits such as growth rate, mortality rate and length of breeding season varied more between populations than between species, whereas fecundity and traits associated with body length varied more between species.
Main conclusions Latitude, in contrast to habitat type, is an important factor influencing several traits of geographically widely dispersed populations of multiple European freshwater fish species. Species traits that vary more between species than between populations are attractive variables for understanding and predicting the responses of stream fish communities to their environment.