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Proc Biol Sci. 2002 Nov 22;269(1507):2325-30.

Egg-size evolution in aquatic environments: does oxygen availability constrain size?

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Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Tungasletta 2, NO-7485 Trondheim, Norway.


Selection against large eggs has been proposed for aquatic environments, putatively because large eggs should have more difficulty obtaining the required oxygen. Here, we use brown trout (Salmo trutta) eggs to provide an experimental test of this hypothesis. At high levels of dissolved oxygen (14 mg l(-1)), egg survival was high and independent of egg size. At low oxygen levels (2.3 mg l(-1)), survival decreased overall, and was higher for large-egged than small-egged siblings. Thus, contrary to conventional expectation, low oxygen levels selected for large rather than small eggs. A second experiment using Atlantic salmon (S. salar) eggs indicated that oxygen consumption increases relatively slowly with increasing egg mass (allometric constant = 0.44). The failure of the conventional 'bigger is worse during incubation' hypothesis may thus be due to the erroneous assumption that oxygen consumption increases at a greater rate with increasing egg mass than does the egg surface area that is available for oxygen diffusion. We also demonstrate, using data from Atlantic salmon, that nest-specific oxygen consumption decreases with increasing egg size, but that this effect is more pronounced for large than for small females. This may help to explain the positive correlation between adult body size and egg size observed in fishes that cluster their eggs.

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