Does intraspecific size variation in a predator affect its diet diversity and top-down control of prey?


It has long been known that intraspecific variation impacts evolutionary processes, but only recently have its potential ecological effects received much attention. Theoretical models predict that genetic or phenotypic variance within species can alter interspecific interactions, and experiments have shown that genotypic diversity in clonal species can impact a wide range of ecological processes. To extend these studies to quantitative trait variation within populations, we experimentally manipulated the variance in body size of threespine stickleback in enclosures in a natural lake environment. We found that body size of stickleback in the lake is correlated with prey size and (to a lesser extent) composition, and that stickleback can exert top-down control on their benthic prey in enclosures. However, a six-fold contrast in body size variance had no effect on the degree of diet variation among individuals, or on the abundance or composition of benthic or pelagic prey. Interestingly, post-hoc analyses revealed suggestive correlations between the degree of diet variation and the strength of top-down control by stickleback. Our negative results indicate that, unless the correlation between morphology and diet is very strong, ecological variation among individuals may be largely decoupled from morphological variance. Consequently we should be cautious in our interpretation both of theoretical models that assume perfect correlations between morphology and diet, and of empirical studies that use morphological variation as a proxy for resource use diversity.

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