Rianne E. Fernandes
- Population consequences of individual heterogeneity in life histories: overcompensation in response to harvesting of alternative reproductive tactics
- Volume | Issue number
- 127 | 5
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Science (FNWI)
- Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED)
Alternative reproductive tactics (ARTs) are examples of individual heterogeneity in which males adopt one of typically two alternative strategies to mate with females: males are either large, armed fighters or small, benign sneakers. ART expression is often conditionally determined, and variation in the expression of conditional ARTs due to genetic and/or environmental influences can greatly affect population composition and trajectory. For example, ecological feedback mechanisms resulting from strong density‐dependent competition over food have been suggested to explain the observation that the harvesting of scramblers (= sneakers) in closed populations of the bulb mite Rhizoglyphus robini did not result in an increase (expected from quantitative genetics theory) but decrease in fighter expression. Here, we exposed closed bulb mite populations to selective fighter or scrambler harvesting for 5–6 generations under abundant food (to halt ecological feedbacks through density‐dependence) to confirm predictions from quantitative genetics theory. However, we found no evolutionary shift in ART expression; rather, we observed an overcompensatory ecological response, whereby the number of fighters increased when we harvested them. Treatment effects on scrambler numbers could not be tested as there were too few in the experimental populations. Further experiments revealed that starved fighters preferentially killed immature males and immature fighters; possibly to reduce male‐male competition as e.g. immature fighters have not yet developed their lethal weaponry. If this is so, then harvesting adult fighters reduced the killing pressure on immature males in our experiment, which resulted in an overcompensatory number of immature fighters that matured as adults. Our results highlight the complexity of how individual heterogeneity in ARTs affects the ecological and evolutionary processes that determine population fluctuations.
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