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Differences in abalone growth and morphology between locations with high and low food availability: morphologically fixed or plastic traits?
Saunders, T.M.; Connell, S.D.; Mayfield, S. (2009). Differences in abalone growth and morphology between locations with high and low food availability: morphologically fixed or plastic traits? Mar. Biol. (Berl.) 156(6): 1255-1263. hdl.handle.net/10.1007/s00227-009-1167-4
In: Marine Biology. Springer: Heidelberg; Berlin. ISSN 0025-3162, more
Peer reviewed article  

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Keyword
    Marine

Authors  Top 
  • Saunders, T.M.
  • Connell, S.D.
  • Mayfield, S.

Abstract
    Many species of sedentary marine invertebrates exhibit large spatial variation in their morphology, which allow them to occupy a broad geographic distribution and range of environmental conditions. However, the detection of differences in morphology amongst variable environments cannot determine whether these differences represent a plastic response to the local environment, or whether morphology is genetically fixed. We used a reciprocal transplant experiment to test whether ‘stunted’ blacklip abalone (Haliotis rubra) are the result of a plastic response to the environment or fixed genetic trait. Furthermore, we related environmental factors, that affect food availability (density of abalone, water movement, algal cover and reef topography), to differences in growth and morphology. Morphological plasticity was confirmed as the mechanism causing morphological variation in H. rubra. Individuals transplanted to sites with ‘non-stunted’ H. rubra grew significantly faster when compared to stunted controls, whilst individuals transplanted to stunted sites grew significantly slower compared to non-stunted controls. The growth response was greater for individuals transplanted from ‘non-stunted’ to ‘stunted’ sites, suggesting that the environmental stressors in morphologically ‘stunted’ habitat are stronger compared to locations of faster growing morphology. We propose that these differences are related to resource availability whereby low algal cover and topographic simplicity results in stunted populations, whereas high algal abundance and topographic complexity results in non-stunted populations.

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