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Born at the right time? A conceptual framework linking reproduction, development, and settlement in reef fish

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posted on 2020-09-28, 03:27 authored by Jeffrey ShimaJeffrey Shima, EG Noonburg, SE Swearer, SH Alonzo, CW Osenberg
© 2017 by the Ecological Society of America Parents are expected to make decisions about reproductive timing and investment that maximize their own fitness, even if this does not maximize the fitness of each individual offspring. When offspring survival is uncertain, selection typically favors iteroparity, which means that offspring born at some times can be disadvantaged, while others get lucky. The eventual fate of offspring may be further modified by their own decisions. Are fates of offspring set by birthdates (i.e., determined by parents), or can offspring improve upon the cards they've been dealt? If so, do we see adaptive plasticity in the developmental timing of offspring? We evaluate these questions for a coral reef fish (the sixbar wrasse, Thalassoma hardwicke) that is characterized by extreme iteroparity and flexible larval development. Specifically, we monitored larval settlement to 192 small reefs over 11 lunar months and found that most fish settled during new moons of a lunar cycle (consistent with preferential settlement on dark nights). Settlement was significantly lower than expected by chance during the full moon and last quarter of the lunar cycle (consistent with avoidance of bright nights). Survival after settlement was greatest for fish that settled during times of decreasing lunar illumination (from last quarter to new moon). Fish that settled on the last quarter of the lunar cycle were ~10% larger than fish that settled during other periods, suggesting larvae delay settlement to avoid the full moon. These results are consistent with a numerical model that predicts plasticity in larval development time that enables avoidance of settlement during bright periods. Collectively, our results suggest that fish with inauspicious birthdates may alter their developmental trajectories to settle at better times. We speculate that such interactions between parent and offspring strategies may reinforce the evolution of extreme iteroparity and drive population dynamics, by increasing the survival of offspring born at the “wrong” time by allowing them to avoid the riskiest times of settlement.


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Shima, J. S., Noonburg, E. G., Swearer, S. E., Alonzo, S. H. & Osenberg, C. W. (2017). Born at the right time? A conceptual framework linking reproduction, development, and settlement in reef fish. Ecology, 99(1), 116-126.

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