Stage-specific biomass overcompensation by juveniles in response to increased adult mortality in a wild fish population


  • Corresponding Editor: M. A. Hixon.


Recently developed theoretical models of stage-structured consumer–resource systems have shown that stage-specific biomass overcompensation can arise in response to increased mortality rates. We parameterized a stage-structured population model to simulate the effects of increased adult mortality caused by a pathogen outbreak in the perch (Perca fluviatilis) population of Windermere (UK) in 1976. The model predicts biomass overcompensation by juveniles in response to increased adult mortality due to a shift in food-dependent growth and reproduction rates. Considering cannibalism between life stages in the model reinforces this compensatory response due to the release from predation on juveniles at high mortality rates. These model predictions are matched by our analysis of a 60-year time series of scientific monitoring of Windermere perch, which shows that the pathogen outbreak induced a strong decrease in adult biomass and a corresponding increase in juvenile biomass. Age-specific adult fecundity and size at age were higher after than before the disease outbreak, suggesting that the pathogen-induced mortality released adult perch from competition, thereby increasing somatic and reproductive growth. Higher juvenile survival after the pathogen outbreak due to a release from cannibalism likely contributed to the observed biomass overcompensation. Our findings have general implications for predicting population- and community-level responses to increased size-selective mortality caused by exploitation or disease outbreaks.