Individual variability in body size provides a template for selective mortality processes during early life history stages of teleost fishes. This size variability has generated the logically intuitive hypothesis that larger or faster growing members of a cohort gain a survival advantage
over smaller conspecifics via enhanced resistance to starvation, decreased vulnerability to predators, and better tolerance of environmental extremes. This review evaluates field and laboratory studies that have examined size-based differences in survival, with emphasis on the juvenile stage
of teleost fishes. The results in general support the "bigger is better" hypothesis, although a number of examples indicate non-selective mortality with no obvious size advantages. The reverse pattern, with enhanced survival of smaller individuals, is rare with the notable exception of bird
predation. Major size-selective processes during the juvenile stage include overwinter mortality for temperate species, associated with either starvation or intolerance of physical extremes by smaller members of the young-of-the-year cohort, and predation, with smaller fish more susceptible
to successful capture by predators. Most studies examining these processes have used indirect methods to evaluate size-selective mortality, with interpretation of results dependent on several critical assumptions. For methods that track size distributions over time, unbiased samples collected
from the same population are critical, and changes in size distributions associated with mortality must be distinguished from changes due to individual growth. The latter requirement can be met with the direct, "characteristics of survivors" method, but few studies have used this approach.
Experimental methods isolating specific mechanisms of size-specific mortality must appropriately represent the natural context of environmental factors. Specific predator/prey combinations, for example, can elucidate size-based prey preferences but may be irrelevant compared to the natural,
multi-species predator field. The composition of the predator field and its correspondence to size-spectrum theory is crucial to the probability of size-selective predation as a cohort progresses through the juvenile stage. Distinction of selection on body size vs. selection on growth rate
has received little attention. However, a number of physiological constraints and ecological trade-offs can place restrictions on growth rates and apparently override the advantages of large body size. Identifying the major sources of mortality and how they operate in the juvenile stage has
valuable applications in understanding population dynamics and recruitment variability.
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