QUANTIFYING EVOLUTIONARY POTENTIAL OF MARINE FISH LARVAE: HERITABILITY, SELECTION, AND EVOLUTIONARY CONSTRAINTS

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Abstract

For many marine fish, intense larval mortality may provide considerable opportunity for selection, yet much less is known about the evolutionary potential of larval traits. We combined field demographic studies and manipulative experiments to estimate quantitative genetic parameters for both larval size and swimming performance for a natural population of a common coral-reef fish, the bicolor damselfish (Stegastes partitus). We also examined selection on larval size by synthesizing information from published estimates of selective mortality. We introduce a method that uses the Lande–Arnold framework for examining selection on quantitative traits to empirically reconstruct adaptive landscapes. This method allows the relationship between phenotypic value and fitness components to be described across a broad range of trait values. Our results suggested that despite strong viability selection for large larvae and moderate heritability (h2= 0.29), evolutionary responses of larvae would likely be balanced by reproductive selection favoring mothers that produce more, smaller offspring. Although long-term evolutionary responses of larval traits may be constrained by size-number trade-offs, our results suggest that phenotypic variation in larval size may be an ecologically important source of variability in population dynamics through effects on larval survival and recruitment to benthic populations.

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