Substantial evidence from the animal kingdom shows that there is a trade-off between benefits and costs associated with rapid somatic growth. One would therefore expect growth rates under natural conditions to be close to an evolutionary optimum. Nevertheless, natural selection in many salmonid species appears to be toward larger size and earlier emergence from spawning redds, indicating a potential for increased growth rate to evolve. We tested how selection for genetic variants (growth hormone transgenic coho salmon, Oncorhynchus kisutch, with more than doubled daily growth rate potential relative to wild genotypes) depended on predator timing and food abundance during the early period of life (fry stage). In artificial redds, fry of the fast-growing genotypes showed a highly significant developmental shift, emerging from gravel nests approximately two weeks sooner, but with an 18.6% reduced survival, relative to wild-genotype fry. In seminatural streams, fry of the fast-growing genotypes suffered higher predation than those of wild genotypes when predators were present at the time of fry emergence, but this difference was less pronounced when food was scarce. In streams where predators were introduced after emergence, fry survived equally well regardless of food availability. Surviving fry grew faster in habitats provided with more food, and fast-growing genotypes also grew faster than wild genotypes when predators arrived late and food was abundant. Fewer fish migrated downstream past a waterfall when food availability was high and in the presence of predators, and wild-genotype fry were more likely to migrate than fry of the fast-growing genotypes. After being returned to the experimental streams after migration, fast-growing genotypes survived equally well as those of the same genotypes that did not migrate, whereas migrating wild genotypes experienced higher mortality relative to those of the same genotypes that did not migrate. Comparisons of growth rates between siblings retained under hatchery conditions and those from habitats with the fastest growth in the experimental stream revealed that growth rates were similar for wild genotypes in both environments, whereas the fast-growing genotypes in the streams only realized 90% of their growth potential. The present study has shown that a major shift in developmental timing can alter critical early stages affecting survival and can have a significant effect on fitness. Furthermore, ecological conditions such as food abundance and predation pressure can strongly influence the potential for fast-growing variants to survive under natural conditions. The large-scale removal of many predatory species around the world may augment the evolution of increased intrinsic growth rates in some taxa.
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Vol. 59 • No. 7