• adaptive divergence;
  • Centrarchid;
  • feeding behaviour;
  • Lepomis gibbosus;
  • morphometrics;
  • natural selection;
  • phenotypic plasticity;
  • resource polymorphism


Morphological plasticity can influence adaptive divergence when it affects fitness components such as foraging performance. We induced morphological variation in pumpkinseed sunfish (Lepomis gibbosus) ecomorphs and tested for effects on foraging performance. Young-of-year pumpkinseed sunfish from littoral and pelagic lake habitats were reared each on a ‘specialist diet’ representing their native habitat-specific prey, or a ‘generalist diet’ reflecting a combination of native and non-native prey. Specialist and generalist diets, respectively, induced divergent and intermediate body forms. Specialists had the highest capture success on their native prey whereas generalist forms were inferior. Specialists faced trade-offs across prey types. However, pelagic specialists also had the highest intake rate on both prey types suggesting that foraging trade-offs are relaxed when prey are abundant. This increases the likelihood of a resource polymorphism because the specialized pelagic form can be favoured by directional selection when prey are abundant and by diversifying selection when prey resources are restricted.