Population Ecology - Original Paper


, Volume 158, Issue 2, pp 249-257

First online:

Resource heterogeneity, diet shifts and intra-cohort competition: effects on size divergence in YOY fish

  • Magnus HussAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology and Environmental Science, Umeå University Email author 
  • , Pär ByströmAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology and Environmental Science, Umeå University
  • , Lennart PerssonAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology and Environmental Science, Umeå University

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Most organisms exhibit a substantial size variation among individuals due to individual differences in experienced biotic and abiotic environmental conditions and because individuals undergo growth and development during most of their life time. One important issue in this context is how size variation within cohorts may develop over time. Here, we tested the hypothesis, in gape-limited animals such as fish, that size divergence among individuals within a cohort depends on the opportunity to undergo size-dependent diet shifts, by allowing initially larger individuals to make an early diet shift when the first resource becomes limiting. We used young-of-the-year perch (Perca fluviatilis) as our study organism. Competitive intensity and the opportunity to undergo a diet shift from zooplankton to macroinvertebrates affected both mean growth rates and the extent to which inter-individual variation in growth was manifested. As predicted, increased competition combined with the presence of both zooplankton and benthic macroinvertebrates increased the degree of size variation. However, size divergence was also observed among individuals when only the initial resource, zooplankton, was available. We argue that only non-exploitative interactions, such as dominance structures and social interactions, could have caused this latter pattern, as exploitative competition is expected to lead to size convergence due to the superior competitive ability of smaller individuals. Our results suggest that diet shifts are not a prerequisite for size divergence in animal cohorts, and that dominance and social interactions may have similar effects on size variation within cohorts. Finally, development of size variation is suggested to have strong implications for overall cohort performance.


Diet shifts Competition Size divergence Social interactions Perca fluviatilis