Population size-structure-dependent fitness and ecosystem consequences in Trinidadian guppies

Ronald D. Bassar, Thomas Heatherly, Michael C. Marshall, Steven A. Thomas, Alexander S. Flecker, David N. Reznick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Decades of theory and recent empirical results have shown that evolutionary, population, community and ecosystem properties are the result of feedbacks between ecological and evolutionary processes. The vast majority of theory and empirical research on these eco-evolutionary feedbacks has focused on interactions among population size and mean traits of populations. However, numbers and mean traits represent only a fraction of the possible feedback dimensions. Populations of many organisms consist of different size classes that differ in their impact on the environment and each other. Moreover, rarely do we know the map of ecological pathways through which changes in numbers or size structure cause evolutionary change. The goal of this study was to test the role of size structure in eco-evolutionary feedbacks of Trinidadian guppies and to begin to build an eco-evolutionary map along this unexplored dimension. We used a factorial experiment in mesocosms wherein we crossed high- and low-predation guppy phenotypes with population size structure. We tested the ability of changes in size structure to generate selection on the demographic rates of guppies using an integral projection model (IPM). To understand how fitness differences among high- and low-predation phenotypes may be generated, we measured the response of the biomass of lower trophic levels and nutrient cycling to the different phenotype and size structure treatments. We found a significant interaction between guppy phenotype and the size structure treatments for absolute fitness. Size structure had a very large effect on invertebrate biomass in the mesocosms, but there was little or no effect of the phenotype. The effect of size structure on algal biomass depended on guppy phenotype, with no difference in algal biomass in populations with more, smaller guppies, but a large decrease in algal biomass in mesocosms with phenotypes adapted to low-predation risk. These results indicate an important role for size structure partially driving eco-evolutionary feedbacks in guppies. The changes in the ecosystem suggest that the absence of a steep decline in guppy fitness of the low-predation risk populations is likely due to higher consumption of algae when invertebrates are comparatively rare. Overall, these results demonstrate size structure as a possible dimension through which eco-evolutionary feedbacks may occur in natural populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)955-968
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015


  • Eco-evolutionary feedbacks
  • Integral projection models
  • Life-history evolution
  • Local adaptation
  • Size structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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