The Atlantic silverside (Menidia menidia) exhibits countergradient latitudinal variation in somatic growth rate along the East Coast of North America. Larvae and juveniles from high-latitude populations display higher intrinsic rates of energy consumption and growth than genotypes from low-latitude populations. The existence of submaximal growth in some environments suggests that trade-offs must counter the oft-cited theoretical benefits of energy and growth maximization (e.g., “bigger is better,” “faster is better”) in the immature life stages. We hypothesized that energy and growth maximization trades off against investment in defense from predators. We conducted laboratory selection experiments to compare vulnerability to predation of silversides from: (1) fast-growing northern (Nova Scotia, NS) versus slow-growing southern (South Carolina, SC) source populations; (2) phenotypically manipulated fast-growing versus moderately-growing NS fish; and (3) recently fed versus unfed NS and SC fish. Tests involved fish drawn from common-garden environments and were conducted by subjecting mixed-treatment schools of size-matched silversides to natural, common piscine predators. NS silversides suffered significantly higher predation mortality than SC silversides. Parallel results were found in phenotypic manipulation of growth: NS silversides reared on a fast-growth trajectory (∼1.0 mm/day) were significantly more vulnerable to predation than those growing at a moderate rate (∼0.5 mm/day). Food consumption also affected vulnerability to predators: Silversides with large meals in their stomachs suffered significantly higher predation mortality than unfed silversides. Differences in predation vulnerability were likely due to swimming performance, not attractiveness to predators. Our findings demonstrate that maximization of energy intake and growth rate engenders fitness costs in the form of increased vulnerability to predation.
Corresponding Editor: D. Roff