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Developing organisms typically mature earlier and at larger sizes in favorable growth conditions, while in rarer cases, maturity is delayed. The rarer reaction norm is easily accommodated by general life history models, whereas the common pattern is not. Theory suggests that a solution to this paradox lies in the existence of critical size thresholds at which maturation or metamorphosis can commence, and in the evolution of these threshold sizes in response to environmental variation. For example, ephemeral environments might favor the evolution of smaller thresholds, enabling earlier maturation. The threshold model makes two unique and untested predictions. First, reaction norms for age and size should steepen, and even change sign, with decreases in threshold size; second, food reductions at sizes below the threshold should delay maturation, while those occurring after the threshold should accelerate maturation. We test these predictions through food manipulations in five damselfly species that theory suggests should differ in threshold size. The results provide strong support for the threshold model’s predictions. In all species, early food reductions delayed maturation, while late reductions accelerated maturation. Reaction norms were steeper, and the effect of food reductions changed from decelerating to accelerating at a much smaller size in species from ephemeral habitats. These results support the view that developmental thresholds can account for the widespread observation of negative correlations between age and size at maturity. Moreover, evolution of the threshold appears to be both predictable and central to the observed diversity of reaction norms for age and size at maturity.
|Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
|Published - 2021
Subject classification (UKÄ)
- Evolutionary Biology
- Developmental thresholds | life history | reaction norms |