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Evolution. 2009 Dec;63(12):3190-200. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2009.00781.x. Epub 2009 Aug 16.

Evolution of gigantism in nine-spined sticklebacks.

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Ecological Genetics Research Unit, Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, PO Box 65, FI-00014, Helsinki, Finland.


The relaxation of predation and interspecific competition are hypothesized to allow evolution toward "optimal" body size in island environments, resulting in the gigantism of small organisms. We tested this hypothesis by studying a small teleost (nine-spined stickleback, Pungitius pungitius) from four marine and five lake (diverse fish community) and nine pond (impoverished fish community) populations. In line with theory, pond fish tended to be larger than their marine or lake conspecifics, sometimes reaching giant sizes. In two geographically independent cases when predatory fish had been introduced into ponds, fish were smaller than those in nearby ponds lacking predators. Pond fish were also smaller when found in sympatry with three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) than those in ponds lacking competitors. Size-at-age analyses demonstrated that larger size in ponds was achieved by both increased growth rates and extended longevity of pond fish. Results from a common garden experiment indicate that the growth differences had a genetic basis: pond fish developed two to three times higher body mass than marine fish during 36 weeks of growth under similar conditions. Hence, reduced risk of predation and interspecific competition appear to be chief forces driving insular body size evolution toward gigantism.

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