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Countergradient Variation in Growth Rate: Compensation for Length of the Growing Season among Atlantic Silversides from Different Latitudes

David O. Conover and Teresa M. C. Present
Oecologia
Vol. 83, No. 3 (1990), pp. 316-324
Published by: Springer in cooperation with International Association for Ecology
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4219339
Page Count: 9
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Countergradient Variation in Growth Rate: Compensation for Length of the Growing Season among Atlantic Silversides from Different Latitudes
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Abstract

How do organisms adapt to the differences in temperature and length of the growing season that occur with latitude? Among Atlantic silversides (Menidia menidia) along the east coast of North America, the length of the first growing season declines by a factor of about 2.5 with increasing latitude. Yet body size at the end of the first growing season does not decline. High-latitude fish must, therefore, grow faster within the growing season than do low-latitude fish. This geographical pattern has a genetic basis. Laboratory experiments on fish from six different locations revealed a latitudinal gradient in the capacity for growth (i.e., maximum growth potential). In two subsequent experiments using fish from Nova Scotia (NS), New York (NY) and South Carolina (SC) that had been separately reared in a common environment for several generations, differences in growth rate among populations were highly significant. The rank order was NS>NY>SC, but the difference among populations depended on temperature. High-latitude fish outperformed those from low latitudes primarily at the high temperatures that low-latitude fish would be expected to experience most often in nature. These results suggest that instead of being adapted for growth at low temperatures, fish from high latitudes are adapted for rapid elevation of growth rate during the brief interval of the year when high temperatures occur. Selection on growth rate results from size-dependent winter mortality: the importance to winter survival of being large increases with latitude but the length of the growing season simultaneously decreases. The end result is countergradient variation in growth rate, a phenomenon that may be much more widespread than currently recognized.

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