SREL Reprint #1979




Variation in growth and age at maturity in bluegill sunfish: genetic or environmental effects?

University of' Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, Drawer E, Aiken, South Carolina 29802, U.S.A.

Populations of bluegill sunfish Lepomis macrochirus, experiencing heavy juvenile predation, showed increased growth rates and increased age and size at maturity relative to populations experiencing decreased predation on juveniles but increased predation on adults. This study examined bluegills experimentally from both types of populations and a cross between them in a common environment to determine if variation in growth and age at maturity is genetically or environmentally induced. Two factorial experiments, varying strain of bluegills and resource availability, were used to evaluate differences in growth rate. One experiment, varying strain of bluegills, was used to assess differences in age at maturity. Growth was strongly influenced by resource level, but growth rate did not vary among populations. Nearly all bluegills in each population matured at I year of age in a common environment. Thus, variation observed in source populations must be mostly attributable to difference in the environment between populations. At least three factors could potentially cause differences in growth and age at maturity: (1) variation in resource availability; (2) variation in demographic structure; and (3) variation in size-specific mortality rates caused by differences in predator abundance between populations. Observed patterns of variation between populations are best explained by effects of differences in predator populations.

Key words: growth; predation; age/size at maturity; Lepomis macrochirus; common-garden experiments; plasticity.

SREL Reprint #1979

Belk, M.C. 1995. Variation in growth and age at maturity in bluegill sunfish: genetic or environmental effects? Journal of Fish Biology 47:237-247.

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