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Evolutionary divergence in phenotypic plasticity shapes brain size variation between coexisting sunfish ecotypes

Citation

Axelrod, Caleb; Robinson, Beren; Laberge, Frédéric (2022), Evolutionary divergence in phenotypic plasticity shapes brain size variation between coexisting sunfish ecotypes, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.3tx95x6jz

Abstract

Mechanisms that generate brain size variation and the consequences of such variation on ecological performance are poorly understood in most natural animal populations. We use a reciprocal-transplant common garden experiment and foraging performance trials to test for brain size plasticity and the functional consequences of brain size variation in Pumpkinseed sunfish (Lepomis gibbosus) ecotypes that have diverged between nearshore littoral and offshore pelagic lake habitats. Different age-classes of wild-caught juveniles from both habitats were exposed for six months to treatments that mimicked littoral and pelagic foraging. Plastic responses in oral jaw size suggested that treatments mimicked natural habitat-specific foraging conditions. Plastic brain size responses to foraging manipulations differed between ecotypes, as only pelagic sourced fish showed brain size plasticity. Only pelagic juveniles under 1 year-old expressed this plastic response, suggesting that plastic brain size responses decline with age and so may be irreversible. Finally, larger brain size was associated with enhanced foraging performance on live benthic but not pelagic prey, providing the first experimental evidence of a relationship between brain size and prey-specific foraging performance in fishes. The recent post-glacial origin of these ecotypes suggests that brain size plasticity can rapidly evolve and diverge in fish under contrasting ecological conditions.

Funding

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada