Anthropogenic Harvesting Pressure and Changes in Life History: Insights from a Rocky Intertidal Limpet Public Deposited

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  • The importance of large breeding individuals for maintaining the health of marine fish and invertebrate populations has long been recognized. Unfortunately, decades of human harvesting that preferentially remove larger individuals have led to drastic reductions in body sizes of many of these species. Such size-selective harvesting is particularly worrisome for sequentially hermaphroditic species where the larger size classes are composed primarily of one sex. Whether these species can maintain stable sex ratios under sustained harvesting pressure depends on the level of plasticity of their life-history traits. Here, we show that populations of a marine limpet (Lottia gigantea) can adjust a fundamental aspect of their life history (the timing of sex change) when subjected to size-selective harvesting. As predicted by theoretical models, individuals from harvested populations change sex at smaller sizes and grow at slower rates compared to individuals from protected populations. In addition, the relative size at which the change from male to female occurs remains constant (similar to 0.75; size at sex change/maximum size) across populations, regardless of harvesting pressure. Our results show that population-level demographic and life-history data, in conjunction with existing theory, can be sufficient to predict the responses of sequential hermaphrodites to harvesting pressure. Furthermore, they suggest such species can potentially adapt to size-selective harvesting.
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  • Fenberg, P. B., Associate Editor: Michael G. Neubert, Editor: Judith L. Bronstein, & Roy, K. (2012). Anthropogenic harvesting pressure and changes in life history: Insights from a rocky intertidal limpet. The American Naturalist, 180(2), 200-210. doi: 10.1086/666613
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