Experimental harvesting of fish populations drives genetically based shifts in body size and maturation

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Size-selective harvesting in commercial fisheries can induce rapid changes in biological traits. While experimental and wild harvested populations often exhibit clear shifts in body size and maturation associated with fishing pressure, the relative contributions of genetic and environmental factors to these shifts remain uncertain and have been much debated. To date, observations of so-called fisheries-induced evolution (FIE) have been based solely on phenotypic measures, such as size data. Genetic data are hitherto lacking. Here, we quantify genetic versus environmental change in response to size-selective harvesting for small and large body size in guppies (Poecilia reticulata) across three generations of selection. We document for the first time significant changes at individual genetic loci, some of which have previously been associated with body size. In contrast, variation at neutral microsatellite markers was unaffected by selection, providing direct genetic evidence for rapid evolution induced by size-selective harvesting. These findings demonstrate FIE in an experimental system, with major implications for the sustainability of harvested populations, as well as impacts on size-structured communities and ecosystem processes. These findings highlight the need for scientists and managers to reconsider the capacity of harvested stocks to adapt to, and recover from, harvesting and predation. © 2013 The Ecological Society of America.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-187
Number of pages7
JournalFrontiers in Ecology & the Environment
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2013

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