Timing of breeding and offspring size are maternal traits that may influence offspring competitive ability, dispersal, foraging, and vulnerability to predation and climatic conditions. To quantify the extent to which these maternal traits may ultimately affect an organism's fitness, we undertook laboratory and field experiments with Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). To control for confounding effects caused by correlated traits, manipulations of the timing of fertilization combined with intraclutch comparisons were used. In the wild, a total of 1462 juveniles were marked at emergence from gravel nests. Recapture rates suggest that up to 83.5% mortality occurred during the first four months after emergence from the gravel nests, with the majority (67.5%) occurring during the initial period ending 17 days after median emergence. Moreover, the mortality was selective during this initial period, resulting in a significant phenotypic shift toward an earlier date of and an increased length at emergence. However, no significant selection differentials were detected thereafter, indicating that the critical episode of selection had occurred at emergence. Furthermore, standardized selection gradients indicated that selection was more intense on date of than on body size at emergence. Timing of emergence had additional consequences in terms of juvenile body size. Late-emerging juveniles were smaller than early-emerging ones at subsequent samplings, both in the wild and in parallel experiments conducted in seminatural stream channels, and this may affect success at subsequent size-selective episodes, such as winter mortality and reproduction. Finally, our findings also suggest that egg size had fitness consequences independent of the effects of emergence time that directly affected body size at emergence and, in turn, survival and size at later life stages. The causality of the maternal effects observed in the present study supports the hypothesis that selection on juvenile traits may play an important role in the evolution of maternal traits in natural populations.
Corresponding Editor: L. Bernatchez