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Am Nat. 2008 Feb;171(2):214-24. doi: 10.1086/524954.

The relationship between offspring size and performance in the sea.

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  • 1School of Integrative Biology/Centre for Marine Studies, University of Queensland, Queensland 4076, Australia.


The historical focus on offspring size has been to explain variation among populations, but there have been few attempts to determine whether variation is greatest at population scale. Offspring size variation is typically viewed as an adaptive response to changes in the relationship between offspring size and performance, yet direct tests remain elusive. We partitioned natural variation in offspring size for a marine invertebrate, Watersipora subtorquata, at a range of spatial and temporal scales across southeastern Australia, and we estimated the relationship between offspring size and performance at each population and time. There was significant variation in offspring size among populations, but regional differences explained only approximately 25% of the observed variation, suggesting that there should be a greater focus on small-scale variation in offspring size. We used our data to parameterize an optimality model to generate predictions of offspring size among different populations and times. Differences in the relationship between offspring size and postmetamorphic performance (and therefore changes in size of offspring that were predicted to maximize maternal fitness) among populations and times were associated with differences in offspring sizes among those populations and times. We suggest that interpopulation variation in offspring size can be an adaptive response to local conditions, but the optimal offspring size is surprisingly dynamic.

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