, Volume 96, Issue 3, pp 391-401

Fisheries as a large-scale experiment on life-history evolution: disentangling phenotypic and genetic effects in changes in maturation and reproduction of North Sea plaice, Pleuronectes platessa L.

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Abstract

This paper attempts to interpret the observed changes in reproductive strategy of female North Sea plaice since 1900 in the light of possible genetical selection exerted by the fisheries. Somatic growth of juvenile plaice increased between the 1950s and the 1980s, probably as a response to an increase in food availability. Adult growth rate was constant, except during a period of increased population abundance when somatic growth decreased. Both length (L mat) and age at first sexual maturity decreased since 1990. No firm evidence was obtained for a change in total reproductive investment, although size-specific fecundity was reduced in the period of increased population abundance, suggesting a trade-off between egg numbers and egg size. Analysis of the phenotypic response of maturation to an increase in juvenile growth suggested that only a part of the decrease in L mat could be ascribed to the observed increase in juvenile growth. The unexplained part of the change in L mat corresponded with the predicted change due to genetical selection by the fisheries. This supported the hypothesis that fishing caused a genetical change in L mat, although an unequivocal interpretation is not possible from a descriptive study.