Of chickens and eggs: diverging propagule size of iteroparous and semelparous organisms

Evolution. 2007 Jan;61(1):232-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2007.00020.x.


Interactive effects of two or more life-history traits on fitness have the potential to create suites of coadapted traits. Propagule (egg or seed) size is one such trait that is believed to have undergone coadaptation with other traits. Phylogenetic analyses of salmonid fishes have revealed an association between large eggs and semelparity, leading to the question of which came first. It has been hypothesized that an increased egg size would have increased juvenile relative to adult survival, favoring a subsequent increase in reproductive effort and eventually semelparity. Others have suggested that this is insufficient to cause a shift in parity, implying to the contrary that semelparity gave rise to larger eggs. In a previous study we showed that environmental unpredictability might select for production of larger propagules. Here we use simulations to directly model how propagule size evolves in response to environmental unpredictability with varying degrees of iteroparity. Our results demonstrate that environmental unpredictability causes pronounced propagule size divergence between iteroparous and purely semelparous species in taxa with a fixed age at maturity (e.g., pure annual species). However, even rare incidents of repeat breeding are sufficient to reduce selection for larger propagules substantially and thus divergence. Furthermore, introducing variation in age at maturity within propagule size genotypes has evolutionary effects similar to that of repeat breeding. Environmental unpredictability is thus unlikely to provide a general alternative explanation for the observed egg size divergence between iteroparous and semelparous salmonids.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological / genetics
  • Adaptation, Biological / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Environment*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Ovum / cytology*
  • Reproduction / genetics
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Seeds / cytology*