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Am Nat. 2007 Jun;169(6):820-9. Epub 2007 Apr 10.

Stabilization of population fluctuations due to cannibalism promotes resource polymorphism in fish.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, Umea University, SE-901 87 Umea, Sweden. jens.andersson@emg.umu.se


Resource polymorphism is a well-known phenomenon in many taxa, assumed to be a consequence of strong competition for resources and to be facilitated by stable environments and the presence of several profitable resources on which to specialize. In fish, resource polymorphism, in the form of planktivore-benthivore pairs, is found in a number of species. We gathered literature data on life-history characteristics and population dynamics for 15 fish species and investigated factors related to the presence of such resource polymorphism. This investigation indicated that early cannibalism and low overall population variability are typically associated with the presence of resource polymorphism. These findings match previously reported patterns of population dynamics for size-structured fish populations, whereby early cannibalism has been shown to decrease temporal variation in population dynamics and to equalize the profitability of the zooplankton and macroinvertebrate resources. Our study suggests that competition alone is not a sufficient condition for the development of resource polymorphism because overly strong competition is typically associated with increased temporal variation (environmental instability). We conclude that although resource competition is an important factor regulating the development of resource polymorphism, cannibalism may also play a fundamental role by dampening population oscillations and possibly by equalizing the profitability of different resources.

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