Cascading life-history interactions: alternative density-dependent pathways drive recruitment dynamics in a freshwater fish
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- Vandenbos, R.E., Tonn, W.M. & Boss, S.M. Oecologia (2006) 148: 573. doi:10.1007/s00442-006-0410-7
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Although density-dependent mechanisms in early life-history are important regulators of recruitment in many taxa, consequences of such mechanisms on other life-history stages are poorly understood. To examine interacting and cascading effects of mechanisms acting on different life-history stages, we stocked experimental ponds with fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas) at two different densities. We quantified growth and survival of the stocked fish, the eggs they produced, and the resulting offspring during their first season of life. Per-capita production and survival of eggs were inversely related to density of stocked fish; significant egg cannibalism by stocked minnows resulted in initial young-of-the-year (YOY) densities that were inversely related to adult densities. Subsequent growth and survival of YOY were then inversely related to these initial YOY densities, and survival of YOY was selective for larger fish. Because of these compensatory processes in the egg and YOY stages, treatments did not differ in YOY abundance and mean size at the end of the growing season. Because of differences in the intensity of size-selective mortality, however, variation in end-of season sizes of YOY was strongly (and inversely) related to densities of stocked fish. When mortality was severe in the egg stage (high densities of stocked fish), final YOY size distributions were more variable than when the dominant mortality was size-selective in the YOY stage (low stocked fish densities). These differences in size variation could have subsequent recruitment consequences, as overwinter survival is typically selective for YOY fish larger than a critical threshold size. Density-dependent effects on a given life stage are not independent, but will be influenced by earlier stages; alternative recruitment pathways can result when processes at earlier stages differ in magnitude or selectivity. Appreciation of these cascading effects should enhance our overall understanding of the dynamics of stage-structured populations.