Phenotypic variation of an alien species in a new environment: the body size and diet of American mink over time and at local and continental scales
Introduced species must adapt their ecology, behaviour, and morphological traits to new conditions. The successful introduction and invasive potential of a species are related to its levels of phenotypic plasticity and genetic polymorphism. We analysed changes in the body mass and length of American mink (Neovison vison) since its introduction into the Warta Mouth National Park, western Poland, in relation to diet composition and colonization progress from 1996 to 2004. Mink body mass decreased significantly during the period of population establishment within the study area, with an average decrease of 13% from 1.36 to 1.18 kg in males and of 16% from 0.83 to 0.70 kg in females. Diet composition varied seasonally and between consecutive years. The main prey items were mammals and fish in the cold season and birds and fish in the warm season. During the study period the proportion of mammals preyed upon increased in the cold season and decreased in the warm season. The proportion of birds preyed upon decreased over the study period, whereas the proportion of fish increased. Following introduction, the strictly aquatic portion of mink diet (fish and frogs) increased over time, whereas the proportion of large prey (large birds, muskrats, and water voles) decreased. The average yearly proportion of large prey and average‐sized prey in the mink diet was significantly correlated with the mean body masses of males and females. Biogeographical variation in the body mass and length of mink was best explained by the percentage of large prey in the mink diet in both sexes, and by latitude for females. Together these results demonstrate that American mink rapidly changed their body mass in relation to local conditions. This phenotypic variability may be underpinned by phenotypic plasticity and/or by adaptation of quantitative genetic variation. The potential to rapidly change phenotypic variation in this manner is an important factor determining the negative ecological impacts of invasive species. © 2012 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2012, 105, 681–693.
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