• Open Access

Adaptive landscapes and density-dependent selection in declining salmonid populations: going beyond numerical responses to human disturbance


Sigurd Einum, Centre for Conservation Biology, Department of Biology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Realfagbugget, NTNU, 7491 Trondheim, Norway. Tel.: +47 7359 0564; fax: +47 7359 6100; e-mail: sigurd.einum@bio.ntnu.no


Theory suggests an important role for population density in shaping adaptive landscapes through density-dependent selection. Here, we identify five methodological approaches for studying such selection, review the existing empirical evidence for it, and ask whether current declines in abundance can be expected to trigger evolutionary responses in salmonid fishes. Across taxa we find substantial amounts of evidence for population density influencing the location of adaptive peaks for a range of traits, and, in the presence of frequency dependence, changing the shape of selection (stabilizing versus disruptive). For salmonids, biological and theoretical considerations suggest that the optimal value of a number of traits associated with juvenile competitive ability (e.g. egg size, timing of emergence from nests, dominance ability), may depend on population density. For adults, more direct experimental and comparative evidence suggest that secondary sexual traits can be subject to density-dependent selection. There is also evidence that density affects the frequency-dependent selection likely responsible for the expression of alternative male reproductive phenotypes in salmon. Less is known however about the role of density in maintaining genetic variation among juveniles. Further efforts are required to elucidate the indirect evolutionary effects of declining population abundances, both in salmonids and in other anthropogenically challenged organisms.