How the evolution of bony traits influences resource interactions in threespine stickleback




Durston, Daniel

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Evolution shapes ecosystems but the processes by which this occurs are not well understood. Adaptive change in resource expensive traits may underlie one such process, as evolution altering a species’ resource needs may effect how that species interacts with ecosystem resources. For this, Ecological Stoichiometry (ES) may be a tractable framework, as it simplifies organisms into elemental ratios and then applies mass-balance to predict changes in diet and waste interactions. ES detects variation in resource expensive traits as variation in elemental ratios, and predicts compensation via parallel changes in diet (e.g. high phosphorous individuals consume high phosphorus diets) and/or offsetting changes in waste (e.g. high phosphorous individuals release low phosphorus waste). To test the utility of this framework and improve our understanding of eco-evolutionary dynamics, I studied variation in phenotypic traits, genetics, elemental content and resource interactions within and across natural populations of highly regarded eco-evolutionary model species threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus). First, I related heritable variation in phosphorus rich bony traits and genetics commonly under natural selection with variation in elemental content (N:P) to determine the magnitude and basis of intraspecific variation in N:P. Second, I investigated the ecosystem consequences of variation in elemental content by determining whether stickleback compensate through changes in diet choice and excretion rates. I found stickleback vary widely in elemental composition (3.0 – 9.4:1 N:P) which models explained well with four bone related traits: bone mineralization, body size, lateral plating and pelvis size (R2 > 0.52). Additional genetic models linked variation in Eda alleles (which underlie lateral plating) with a 12% shift in stickleback N:P. Stickleback compensated for this variation in N:P demand by altering diet choice rather than excretion rates, and by maximizing dietary inputs through changes in gut morphology. Within and across populations, high phosphorus stickleback consumed a larger proportion of high phosphorus prey and contained longer gastrointestinal tracts that more efficiency process diet resources. These results demonstrate that heritable variation in elemental composition is ecologically relevant with individual traits and genetics having large effects. As individuals compensated by altering resource acquisition rather than release, the direct ecological consequences of evolutionary change in these resource expensive traits is likely larger for food web structure and abundance than nutrient dynamics.



ecological stoichiometry, gasterosteus aculeatus, eco-evo interaction, threespine stickleback, organismal stoichiometry