Cannibalism as a selective force on offspring size in fish

Published online: 
24 February 2018

Karin H. Olsson, Ken Haste Andersen

Cannibalism may cause considerable mortality on juvenile fish and it has been hypothesised that it may exercise selection on offspring size in that larger offspring may enjoy a size refuge. For this to be evolutionarily advantageous the survival of individual offspring must compensate for the reduced fecundity implied by larger offspring size. We develop a model which combines standard assumptions of size-dependent mortality with adult cannibalism to investigate the potential for cannibalism to act as selective force on offspring size. We find that for this potential to be realised, the mortality due to cannibalism must exceed a threshold value that is a decreasing function of non-cannibalistic predation intensity, cannibalized size range width and the average cannibalized size. If cannibalism exceeds this threshold, the model predicts evolution of offspring size towards refuges above or below cannibalized size range depending on initial offspring size. Cannibalistic mortality cannot be so great that the population is non-viable, however, the range of parameter values describing cannibalistic intensity allowed within these boundaries is wide. On this basis, we suggest that cannibalism is a potential mechanism for offspring size selection.

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