Rapid human-induced divergence of life-history strategies in Bahamian livebearing fishes (family Poeciliidae)

Rudiger Riesch, Tara Easter, Craig Layman, Brian Langerhans

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1. Human-induced rapid environmental change (HIREC) can have dramatic impacts on ecosystems, leading to rapid trait changes in some organisms and extinction in others. Such changes in traits signify that human actions can lead to cases of increased phenotypic diversity, and consequently can strongly impact population-, community-, and ecosystem-level dynamics.
2. Here, we examine whether the ecological consequences of habitat fragmentation have led to changes in the life histories of three native species of mosquitofish (Gambusia spp.) inhabiting tidal creeks on six different Bahamian islands. We address two important questions: (1) how predictable and parallel are life-history changes in response to HIREC across islands and species, and (2) what is the relative importance of shared (i.e., parallel) responses to fragmentation, differences between species or islands, and species- or island-specific responses to fragmentation?
3. Phenotypic differences between fragmentation regimes were as great or greater than differences between species or islands. While some adult life histories (lean weight and fat content) showed strong, shared responses to fragmentation, offspring-related life histories (embryo fat and fecundity) exhibited idiosyncratic, island-specific, responses. While shared responses to fragmentation appeared largely driven by a reduction in piscivorous fish density, increased conspecific density, and changes in salinity, we found some evidence that among-population variation in male reproductive investment and embryo fat content may have arisen via variation in conspecific density.
4. Our results suggest that phenotypic responses to HIREC can be complex, with the predictability of response varying across traits. We therefore emphasize the need for more theoretical and empirical work to better understand the predictability of phenotypic responses to human-induced disturbances.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1732-1743
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number6
Early online date3 Aug 2015
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2015


  • anthropogenic habitat modification
  • biodiversity
  • competition
  • conservation
  • Gambusia
  • habitat fragmentation
  • population density
  • predation

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