, Volume 189, Issue 1, pp 123–132 | Cite as

Patterns of selective predation change with ontogeny but not density in a marine fish

  • Phoebe CaieEmail author
  • Jeffrey S. Shima
Population ecology – original research


Phenotypic variation is prevalent in the early life-history stages of many organisms and provides the basis for selective mortality on size and growth-related traits of older life stages. Densities of organisms can vary widely at important life-history transitions, raising additional questions about the interplay between selection and density-dependent processes. We evaluate density dependence in patterns of selective mortality for a temperate reef fish. Specifically, we exposed pre-settlement and post-settlement stages of the common triplefin (Forsterygion lapillum) to a natural predator and evaluated patterns of selective mortality on early life-history traits as a function of ontogenetic stage and density. We used otoliths to reconstruct the traits of fish that survived versus fish that were consumed (i.e., we recovered otoliths from the guts of predators), and we estimated selection by analysing the relationship between absolute fitness and standardised traits. Absolute fitness was negatively correlated with size and larval growth rate for pre-settlement fish (i.e., larger and faster growing individuals were more likely to be consumed by predators), and this was consistent across the range of densities evaluated. Post-settlement fish experienced no selective mortality. Additionally, absolute fitness was equal across density treatments, suggesting mortality was density-independent. Collectively, these results suggest that patterns of selection change with ontogeny, but may be stable across densities when mortality is density-independent. Shifts in selective mortality for species with distinct life-stages can mask and complicate relationships between traits and fitness, and the importance of such traits may be underappreciated for earlier life stages.


Carry-over effects Forsterygion lapillum Growth–mortality hypothesis Larval growth Selective mortality 



We thank three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. Funding was provided by a Marsden Grant awarded to J. Shima. This work was carried out in accordance with the Victoria University of Wellington (Permit no. 22038) Animal Ethics Committee. Research assistance was provided by the Shima lab at Victoria University of Wellington, special thanks to B. Moginie and B. Focht for assistance in the field. Logistical assistance was provided by the Victoria University Coastal Ecology Laboratory. The dataset analysed in this study available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Author contribution statement

PC and JSS conceived and designed the experiments. PC conducted fieldwork, performed the experiments and analysed the data. PC and JSS wrote the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand

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