Human-induced rapid environmental changes often cause behavioural alterations in animals. The consequences that these alterations in turn have for the viability of populations are, however, poorly known. We used a population of threespine sticklebacks Gasterosteus aculeatus in the Baltic Sea to investigate the consequences of behavioural responses to human-induced eutrophication for offspring production. The investigated population has been growing during the last decades, and one cause could be increased offspring production. We combined field-based surveys with laboratory-based experiments, and found that an enhanced growth of macroalgae relaxed agonistic interactions among males. This allowed more males to nest, improved hatching success, and increased the number of reproductive cycles that males completed. Thus, the behavioural responses were adaptive at the individual level and increased offspring production. However, a larger proportion of small males of low competitive ability reproduced in dense vegetation. As male size and dominance are heritable, this could influence the genetic composition of the offspring. Together with a higher number of offspring produced, this could influence natural selection and the rate of adaptation to the changing environment. Thus, behavioural responses to a rapid human-induced environmental change can influence offspring production, with potential consequences for population dynamics and evolutionary processes.
Oecologia – Springer Journals
Published: Aug 31, 2013
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