, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 589-604
Date: 24 Nov 2010

Temporal stability of niche use exposes sympatric Arctic charr to alternative selection pressures

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Abstract

There is now strong evidence that foraging niche specialisation plays a critical role in the very early stages of resource driven speciation. Here we test critical elements of models defining this process using a known polymorphic population of Arctic charr from subarctic Norway. We test the long-term stability of niche specialisation amongst foraging predators and discuss the possibility that contrasting foraging specialists are exposed to differing selection regimes. Inter-individual foraging niche stability was measured by combining two time-integrated ecological tracers of the foraging niche (each individual’s δ13C and δ15N stable isotope (SI) signatures and their food borne parasite fauna) with a short-term measure of foraging niche use (stomach contents composition). Three dietary subgroups of predators were identified, including zooplankton, gammarid and benthivore specialists foragers. Zooplanktivorous specialists had muscle low in δ 13C, a high abundance of parasites transmitted from pelagic copepods, a smaller head, longer snout and a more slender body-form than gammaridivorous specialist individuals which had muscle more enriched in δ 13C and high abundance of parasites transmitted from benthic Gammarus. Benthivorous individuals were intermediate between the other two foraging groups according to muscle SI-signals (δ13C) and loadings of parasites transmitted from both copepods and Gammarus. The close relationship between subgroups identified by stomach contents, time-integrated tracers of niche use (SI and parasites) and functional trophic morphology (niche adaptations) demonstrate a long-term temporally stable niche use of each individual predator. Differential habitat use and contrasting parasite communities and loadings, show differential exposure to different suites of selection pressures for different foraging specialists. Results also show that individual specialisation in trophic behaviour and thus exposure to different suites of selection pressures are stable over time, and thus provide a platform for disruptive selection to operate within this sympatric system.