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The effect of life-history variation on the population size structure of a rocky intertidal snail (Littorina sitkana)
Rochette, R.; Dunmall, K.; Dill, L.M. (2003). The effect of life-history variation on the population size structure of a rocky intertidal snail (Littorina sitkana). J. Sea Res. 49(2): 119-132
In: Journal of Sea Research. Elsevier/Netherlands Institute for Sea Research: Amsterdam; Den Burg. ISSN 1385-1101, more
Peer reviewed article  

Also published as
  • Rochette, R.; Dunmall, K.; Dill, L.M. (2003). The effect of life-history variation on the population size structure of a rocky intertidal snail (Littorina sitkana), in: Philippart, C.J.M. et al. (Ed.) Structuring Factors of Shallow Marine Coastal Communities, part II. Journal of Sea Research, 49(2): pp. 119-132, more

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Keyword
    Marine

Authors  Top 
  • Rochette, R.
  • Dunmall, K.
  • Dill, L.M.

Abstract
    On wave-sheltered shores of the northeastern Pacific, the population size structure of Littorina sitkana varies with intertidal height, as larger snails are mostly found only in the upper intertidal. This pattern has been attributed to high predation rates by crabs (and perhaps fish) on large snails inhabiting low-intertidal areas; i.e., large snails are presumed to be rare there simply because predators kill them. In this study we investigate the hypothesis that predation contributes to the shore-level size gradient displayed by L. sitkana by selecting for (or inducing) earlier sexual maturation and reduced somatic growth in low-shore snails relative to high-shore individuals.In the first part of our study, we carried out laboratory dissections, field experiments (mark-release-recapture and caging), and field surveys on a wave-protected shore in Bamfield Inlet, Barkley Sound (British Columbia, Canada). The principal results were: (1) adult survivorship was greater at higher, than at lower, intertidal level, (2) snails displayed a preference for their shore level of origin, (3) immature adults from the high intertidal displayed greater rates of somatic growth relative to immature adults from the low intertidal, and (4) low-shore snails matured at a smaller size than high-shore individuals. In the second part of the study, a large-scale survey showed intra-specific variation in size at sexual maturity (point 4 above) to be relatively consistent over time (winter of 1999 and 2001 for snails from our main study site) and space (13 different sites in winter 2001), although the magnitude of these differences varied greatly from shore to shore.Our results indicate that L. sitkana individuals inhabiting upper and lower parts of their intertidal range allocate resources differently to somatic and gonadal growth, an intra-specific difference that is best interpreted as a response to spatial and size-dependent variation in predation pressure. Taken together, results of this and other recent studies indicate that phenotypic responses to contrasting selection pressures operating in upper- and lower-intertidal areas contribute to the intertidal size gradient of L. sitkana. We believe that greater consideration of evolutionary processes in ecological studies will lead to a more complete understanding of the mechanisms responsible for structuring marine coastal communities.

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