Density-dependent processes in the life history of fishes: evidence from laboratory populations of zebrafish Danio rerio

PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e37550. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037550. Epub 2012 May 24.


Population regulation is fundamental to the long-term persistence of populations and their responses to harvesting, habitat modification, and exposure to toxic chemicals. In fish and other organisms with complex life histories, regulation may involve density dependence in different life-stages and vital rates. We studied density dependence in body growth and mortality through the life-cycle of laboratory populations of zebrafish Danio rerio. When feed input was held constant at population-level (leading to resource limitation), body growth was strongly density-dependent in the late juvenile and adult phases of the life-cycle. Density dependence in mortality was strong during the early juvenile phase but declined thereafter and virtually ceased prior to maturation. Provision of feed in proportion to individual requirements (easing resource limitation) removed density dependence in growth and substantially reduced density dependence in mortality, thus indicating that 'bottom-up' effects act on growth as well as mortality, but most strongly on growth. Both growth and mortality played an important role in population regulation, with density-dependent growth having the greater impact on population biomass while mortality had the greatest impact on numbers. We demonstrate a clear ontogenic pattern of change in density-dependent processes within populations of a very small (maximum length 5 mm) fish, maintained in constant homogeneous laboratory conditions. The patterns are consistent with those distilled from studies on wild fish populations, indicating the presence of broad ontogenic patterns in density-dependent processes that are invariant to maximum body size and hold in homogeneous laboratory, as well as complex natural environments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Size
  • Female
  • Life Cycle Stages
  • Male
  • Population Density
  • Zebrafish / growth & development*