• Open Access

Small-scale biocomplexity in coastal Atlantic cod supporting a Darwinian perspective on fisheries management


Esben Moland Olsen, Institute of Marine Research, Flødevigen, His 4817, Norway.
Tel.: +47 370 59029; fax: +47 370 59001;
e-mail: esben.moland.olsen@imr.no


Harvesting of marine resources raises concerns about how to identify and preserve biocomplexity, including the diversity of life histories found within and among wild populations of a species. In order to fully accomplish this, there is a need to elucidate the underlying causes of phenotypic variation, and how this variation responds to environmental changes. In general, both evolutionary (genetic) and nonevolutionary (plastic) responses may occur. Plastic responses to environmental change are expected to shift the phenotype along a reaction norm, while an evolutionary response is expected to shift the reaction norm itself. Here, we assess the maturation patterns of coastal Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) in Skagerrak, where studies using neutral markers have revealed genetically differentiated populations of this harvested fish within tens of kilometres of coastline. Our results suggest that physiological state prior to the spawning season, as well as juvenile growth, both influence the probability of completing sexual maturation at a given age. Furthermore, our results point towards a spatial structuring of this plasticity (i.e. the maturation reaction norms) comparable with population connectivity inferred from neutral markers. We argue that such fine-scale biocomplexity calls for a Darwinian approach to fisheries management.