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Natural disturbance and life history: consequences of winterkill on fathead minnow in boreal lakes

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Age, growth and reproductive characteristics of fathead minnow Pimephales promelas populations inhabiting four lakes that varied in the extent and frequency of winterkill were studied in the boreal region of western Canada. The lifespan of fathead minnows inhabiting lakes prone to winterkill was 1–2 years shorter than those in less disturbed lakes. In populations prone to winterkill, fish displayed faster growth rates and grew to a larger size‐at‐age, particularly during the first year of life. Although lower population densities in winterkill lakes probably contributed to this increased growth, adults in these populations tended to spawn earlier in the season than the smaller adults in more stable populations. Fathead minnows in lakes prone to winterkill also matured at an earlier age and allocated a greater proportion of their body mass to gonads than conspecifics in the more benign, stable lakes. These trends are consistent with predictions for organisms in variable, unpredictable environments and, because fathead minnows are tolerant to a wide range of environmental conditions, suggest that variation in life‐history traits among populations is probably a product of both selection and phenotypic plasticity.
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Keywords: boreal lakes; fathead minnow; life‐history; winterkill

Document Type: Regular Paper

Affiliations: Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2E9 Canada

Publication date: 01 March 2006

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