MEPS 339:143-155 (2007)  -  doi:10.3354/meps339143

Initial juvenile size and environmental severity: influence of predation and wave exposure on hatching size in Nucella ostrina

Louis A. Gosselin1,*, Renata Rehak1

1Department of Biological Sciences, Thompson Rivers University, 900 McGill Rd, Kamloops, British Columbia V2C 5N3, Canada
2Department of Biology, University of Victoria, PO Box 3020, Station CSC, Victoria, British Columbia V8W 3N3, Canada

ABSTRACT: According to life history theory, offspring survival increases with offspring size, mainly because large offspring are more resistant to environmental stress. Populations and species living in habitats with severe environmental conditions have therefore been predicted to produce larger offspring than populations in more benign environments. We studied 10 populations of the rocky intertidal gastropod Nucella ostrina in Barkley Sound, Canada, to determine the extent of variation in average hatching size at a small spatial scale (the sites being ≤10 km apart), and to determine the influence on hatching size of 2 components of environmental stress: predation and wave exposure. In a 3 yr study of these 10 populations, average shell length of newly hatched snails differed by 15 to 25% among the populations in a given year, and estimated total organic carbon per hatchling varied by 97 to 210%. These are considerable differences given the proximity of these populations. The relative differences among populations were broadly consistent over the 3 years of the study, some populations consistently producing larger average hatching sizes than other populations. Based on the abundance and size structure of the predator populations at 4 of these field sites, predation pressure was predicted to favour different average N. ostrina hatching sizes at these sites: large at 2 sites and small at 2 sites. However, the average hatching size of N. ostrina populations at those sites was not consistent with that prediction, suggesting predation pressure may not have been an important determinant of hatching size. This is a surprising finding, as predation is often considered to be a major cause of early juvenile mortality and thus an important selective pressure influencing the evolution of early juvenile traits. However, average population hatching size did correlate with the relative degree of wave exposure of the site, indicating that either wave action itself or factors covarying with wave action have a substantial influence on initial juvenile size in this species.

KEY WORDS: Offspring size · Life history · Early juveniles · Mortality factors · Interpopulation variation · Selective pressures

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